Who owns your online data? It’s a heated question – in addition to being a highly sought-after prize. Companies dump millions of dollars into creating free online products in exchange for this information. But, what’s the answer?
“We want the consumer to own the consumer,” says nFluence CTO and co-founder Brian Roundtree.
nFluence, a novel online identity service, is trying to put user privacy and data collection back into the hands of the consumer. “We’re not sniffing anything the user is not giving us,” says CEO Henry Lawson. “The consumer owns his/her own persona. They can use it in a variety of different places and switch it on and off at their discretion. That’s the difference between what we’re doing and Facebook is doing.”
Instead of tracking a user’s shopping or viewing history, like Amazon, or what someone’s friends are saying, like Facebook, or even your specific location, like Google and Apple, what nFluence knows about yo, is up to you. The Seattle-based startup is banking on users voluntarily inputting information about themselves through a Q&A regarding which brands, stores, and movies they already like, thus revealing more brands, stores, and movies that the user may enjoy. The more you input, the more accurate the results. Think online dating for brands and media. This identity is then carried across a multitude of online services, which Lawson was unable to comment on other than saying they’re in talks with “more than a dozen players,” including cable and satellite companies, mobile carriers, and brick-and-mortar stores.
It’s hard to fault nFluence’s motive. There’s no shortage of controversy surrounding online privacy; however this hasn’t seemed to slow people’s adoption of these services or even their willingness to actively give away data. There are two distinct issues surrounding privacy: one, control and intrusion (which nFluence solves) and two, homogenized exposure (which nFluence doesn’t). Even with the latter, the concept of being pigeonholed might not sit well, but the quality of results, more often than not, makes for a better user experience.
nFluence’s success will likely hinge on the gap, or lack thereof, between what consumers say they want and what they do.
Suggested reading: 20 Questions Online