‘Consumer’ data has failed its creators

‘Consumer data’ is a remarkable quantity for the lack of ownership afforded to its eponymous creator – the internet browser, the ‘Google-er’, the consumer. Indeed, all of us are the creators of digital data from which Big Tech – Google, Facebook, Amazon (you know the names) – have achieved their giant status.

In fact, each time we open a website or app we leave behind a digital footprint used to track our movements across different websites and applications. This trail is inspected by Big Tech’s pack of algorithms, subsequently, ‘determining’ a web user's probable interests in products, ideas, and trends. With such an ‘accurate’ determination of human interest at its disposal, Big Tech amasses a library of consumer data that it sells to advertisers, generating a lucrative revenue stream.

The relationship between consumers and advertisers goes back to Roman market squares and still serves just as important an economic function today. Yet, in today’s digital context, the creators of the industry’s most prized resource – data – have been excluded from sharing in its reward.

How has such an intrinsically unjust state of affairs survived for so long? Largely because consumers have been misled. In the first instance, consumers have been made to believe that their data holds no personal value. Secondly, that lack of control over data and, indeed, privacy is inseparable from the internet. While, this is slowly changing, with users now able to opt out of certain trackers, Big Tech is still aggressively trying to force us to adopt them: even if a user chooses to reject certain targeting preferences, they are often forced to confirm every time they enter the site or until impatience overcomes concerns.

Although they have certainly been egregious, we cannot place the entire blame on Big Tech, advertisers also have much to answer for. Advertisers spend approximately £27 billion a year on digital marketing, for the most part, this goes straight to Big Tech. This enormous expenditure is justified because it is, in actuality, an investment – an investment made to entice consumers to spend. Moreover, in today’s digitally entangled economy in which jobs, networking, and day-to-day life are so dependent on internet access, the reach of advertising is inescapable. And so, we exist within a digital ecosystem that demands we share our thoughts and data with Earth’s largest corporations, only to boost our own likelihood to spend.

Undoubtedly, this status quo must change. Consumers must recognise the worth of their data and demand remuneration. Meanwhile, advertisers must stop encouraging and feeding Big Tech with the dirty cash that encourages such malpractice. The objective of advertisers must shift from only selling to selling and rewarding. In short, advertisers who seek access to consumer data must provide them with benefits.

Fortunately, the emergence of direct-to-consumer marketing apps and platforms has made such solutions a reality. For advertisers who market via such platforms, they unlock the ability to directly communicate with target consumers, in return offering the latter cash benefits and rewards. It is the responsibility of the platforms themselves to keep the end-user in mind, leveraging their position to ensure consumers get access to the highest value rewards. Furthermore, consumers are able to identify a preferred level of privacy, exchanging a level of data access on a quid quo pro basis to maximise cash benefits, all while driving a positive feedback loop of more relevant ad targeting.

By using direct-to-consumer marketing platforms, consumers can finally reclaim the right to their data and expect a fair price for its exchange. The current economic environment, undoubtedly, makes such solutions particularly enticing.

Though, far more importantly, direct-to-consumer platforms are resetting the relationship between data and advertising, shifting power away from Big Tech and back to consumers. Slowly, we march towards a future where digital data is not a price tag of the modern economy, but a precious commodity back in the hands of its creators, who financially benefit from its transparent and consensual exchange.

Mohsin Rashid is the CEO and co-founder of ZIPZERO, which offers a mass-market consumer solution to the cost-of-living crisis. Shopping via the ZIPZERO app earns users cash to pay bills – the cash rewards are funded by retailers and brands, which gain access to a formidable direct-to-consumer marketing platform, allowing them to divert a collective £27 billion digital advertising spend back to their own customers. Through its compelling consumer proposition, ZIPZERO has become a prolific source of first-party, product-level consumer data. ZIPZERO is inviting major utility firms, leading retailers & brands (advertisers) to make active use of its progressive platform and help UK consumers tackle the cost-of-living crisis.