Monday, September 15, 2008

BlueKai: Bridging the Consumer-Marketer Divide

Yesterday, I pointed to the Trans Union Class Action Lawsuit as an undesirable way for consumers to get compensated for sharing their data -- or, more appropriately, having their data shared.

Today, I'd like to turn the spotlight on a company that seems to have found a much more compelling solution.

BlueKai is a company whose goal is "to create a more effective online marketing approach that is driven by intent data and advocacy for consumer participation."

I was turned onto BlueKai by Brian Morrissey of AdWeek via Twitter in response to the links I sent him to my Highly Targeted saga.

At first glance, the BlueKai platform seems to have everything I've been preaching.

Here is their pitch to consumers:
"It's all about choice, reward and privacy.

Much like commercials on television, online consumers like you are familiar with receiving messages from marketers in exchange for free or subsidized content across the Internet. While BlueKai has not come up with a solution to eliminate advertising altogether, we've created an anonymous registry of online preferences that helps you manage and control what marketers know about you.

In return, you, the consumer, are rewarded with the 3C's: control, charity, and content.

Control—With the BlueKai registry, you can control and manage your online preferences by selecting or de-selecting topics of interest. Your preferences may be used anonymously to influence which types of marketing messages you receive across partner sites that we work with. Or you can choose to not participate at all. (but we encourage you to read on before you decide!)

Charity—It gets better! When marketers pay to access groups of anonymous listings from the BlueKai registry, you will be rewarded with a credit to donate to the charity of your choice.

Content—By voluntarily sharing your online preferences, you're helping marketers provide polite and relevant marketing to you, while they continue to pay the publishers who manage the websites you frequent. In return, you will continue to reap the benefits of free content that is available across the Internet.

And let's not forget about your privacy concerns

BlueKai's mission is to build the world's most comprehensive registry of online preferences that is diligently dedicated to ensuring your anonymity and privacy. To that end, BlueKai follows these guidelines:

BlueKai does not collect or share personal information such as your name, address, or phone number.

BlueKai does not collect or share sensitive information regarding health, drinking, politics, or adult content.

BlueKai will only share information from your listing regarding your shopping and reading interests. (i.e., interested in cars, interested in air travel, etc.). For example, if you select that you're interested in air travel, BlueKai would update your anonymous profile and you will more likely receive an air travel advertisement across BlueKai partner sites. Remember, although you will always be receiving an ad, this process enables you to receive one that is controlled by you—and thus more suited to your preferences— and gives you an opportunity to donate the proceeds to a charity.

If your privacy settings indicate you don't want to share your anonymous listing—then no marketer will be allowed to access that information from BlueKai.

Just like my Highly Targeted experiment, with BlueKai, all data is non-PII.

Just like my HT endeavor, consumers can control what info is shared. Before I sent my data to the folks that won my eBay auctions, I scrubbed out a few pieces of data that I considered sensitive (individual Facebook profiles I had visited, medicine I had purchased, etc.)

And, just like my HT case, all proceeds go to charity.

Clearly the folks at BlueKai and I are drinking from the same kool aid. However, this last point about all money going to charity leaves me questioning how likely it is consumers will adopt this platform.

While I, for one, was happy to go through the trouble of organizing my data and viewing ads in exchange for helping Susan G. Komen, I don't think the masses will feel the same way -- especially when you consider how wary the general public has become over matters of online privacy and phishing scams.

For people to overcome their skepticism and take the time to manage their data and proactively view ads, there has to be ample reward. In my mind, the only thing that will suffice is $$.

My guess is BlueKai went the charity route to discourage fraud. Anytime you start giving out cash via the web people will create bots and rings to bilk you of that money. By donating the money to charity, there's less incentive for those unscrupulous individuals to put the time and energy into finding ways to game the system.

That said, there has to be a way to create checks and balances to prevent fraud or at least mitigate it such that it doesn't have a significant impact on marketers -- after all, Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft have been able to do it.

As it happens, BlueKai's CEO is Omar Tawakol, who I met when he was with Medio Systems. I plan to reach out to Omar this week in the hopes that we can reconnect and I can find out more about this platform. Of course, I'll share what I learn here...

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