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Monday, June 27, 2022

Can this Finnish company tackle privacy and get us paid for our data?

Your private data has value. Last week I was looking into traveling down to Esbjerg, Denmark for Accelerace’s demo day, which unfortunately I couldn’t attend. When looking into the logistics, I hopped on Booking.com to see what cheap places to stay were. And the other morning, as I was checking Facebook in-between writing these paragraphs, I saw that Booking was advertising in my feed asking if I still needed a place to stay in Esbjerg.

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When you go to a brick-and-mortar store, you would be insulted if you were asked for your ID at the door so why is it so common for online advertisers to do so? Clearly there’s big money in it, companies like Google, Facebook, and any other ad platforms are happy to charge advertisers for targeting narrow demographics.

Despite this new paradigm, consumers want and deserve privacy for their data. And what do we get out of it? “More relevant ads, which is what people want to see” is usually the response.

Why don’t we get any real value from our data?

Helsinki-based Glome recognizes that there’s all this value in deep and high quality data on people, but consumers have little control over what companies can see, and they get little benefit from giving their data away. So in response, they’ve created is a “data wallet”, or something similar to a cross-platform online loyalty card. It’s a similar concept to the card you’re carrying for your grocery store – they collect better info on you as a consumer, and then you save money.

The mindset Glome has taken is to not collect any actual name information that can link data back to an actual person, and to also put users in control of their information. And by giving them control, it can change the mindset from being “I want nothing to do with advertisements, so I’m going to install adblock” to “ok, I’ll play this game with you if I gets something out of it.”

The company is flipping paradigms and has wide ambitions, which makes it hard to explain exactly what they’re doing. Perhaps the best way to explain Glome to a consumer to use a hypothetical.

Say you go to an online shopping site or to an online newspaper – right now you’re going to see a wide mix of products or a few ads. But if the service is connected to Glome, what you would see up at the top is a Glome symbol, which gives you a code to pair your browser to the Glome account on your phone. Rather than logins, Glome sees the browser as a more frictionless way to get users online.

In the Glome app, you’ve already signified the types of categories you’re generally interested in, like home, sports & recreation, health & beauty, which gives e-commerce and advertisers an idea of how to target you best. Additionally Glome is passively tracking your activity across other Glome services, like what your habits and shopping patterns actually are. Additionally the Glome Android app has the ability to track things like your music listening habits, and where you are.

If that sounds scary to you, the bad thing is that advertisers are already collecting these types of profiles on you. The good thing is that through the Glome app is you can turn off what you want collected by sites plugged in Glome, and what the Glome app can track about your personal information. Additionally users can then choose and edit what parts of your data can be shown to online platforms. So if you

“It’s like “this is the way the web sees you. Is this ok? If not, you can turn it off,” explains Glome CEO Edi Immonen.

And why would you do this?

The reason you would plug into Gome is a theory they’re testing – which is that if users provide companies with data about themselves, then companies should pay users for that data – though discounts or otherwise. They see this as a win-win: companies get higher quality and deeper data about their consumers, which helps target advertisements and e-commerce items, and users get “paid” and have control of their data.

“Giving control to the user is a bold way to go, but we’re trying to prove that this works,” says Immonen.

Cashback Catalog

As a proof of concept, Glome has launched Cashback Catalog, an online discount shopping platform that plugs into online shops in Finland, Germany, and the UK. It’s similar to every other discount site that gets affiliate referrals by moving customers to products, but the platform is powered by Glome, allowing users to pair the Glome app to the browser they’re using to shop Cashback Catalog. As more and more information is collected about you – either by categories you input, or your actual shopping habits – you’ll notice the amount of cash discounts on the items you buy will go up, and that the service will target to your needs better. So if you’re like me, and am beautiful enough to not need “health and beauty” items targeted towards me, then it won’t show them.

Like for Cashback Catalog, sites plugged into Glome don’t need to register users in order to get personalized recommendations for them – it’s all tied to the browser through Glome. The company has penned a deal with City Digital, the Finnish media and advertising company, meaning we might see Glome advertisements though Finnish media properties.

Glome is an interesting company. When I first heard about them I think their pitch was “online advertisements that pay you,” which I basically brushed off thinking it will never work. Although they’ll have to do some serious convincing to users and platforms to see growth, they’re plugging into existing business models and taking out the “targeting” middle men. If users saw actual value from giving out their personal information, then there might be something there.

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