The birth of the Internet in the 1990s and its subsequent expansion into every aspect of our lives began a digital revolution that has since refused to slow down. With it has come unimagined functionality, equipping us with instant access to information and communication. Those born before the Digital Enlightenment could never have imagined the power to cast aside unanswered questions with a mere “Google”. Gazing across the digital expanse with our infantile stare, we failed to notice another set of eyes looking back at us. Those eyes belong to the world’s largest companies — Big Tech giants like Facebook and Google — who are continuously monitoring our movements across the Internet.
Every time we open a website or App, our journeys are tracked and hunted down by a pack of algorithms designed to determine our interests — products, ideas, and brands that we may feel positively towards. This data is coveted by advertisers; it is the elixir that enhances their powers of persuasion and consumer targeting and, inevitably, sales. This insatiable demand has propelled Big Tech’s rampant profiteering and extraction of consumer data.
Stunned by the pace of digital expansion, consumers have failed to recognize how our data — of which we are the sole producers — is sold off to help influence our future decisions and expenditure. Although there have been some advancements made, such as the withdrawal of third-party cookies in some applications and regions, these have only come about due to societal pressure. Further change will not come until that pressure intensifies. We may have been the children of the Digital Age, but we must recognize that the Internet is no longer in its infancy, and neither are we. We must re-evaluate our perceptions with the experience of more than two decades behind us. We must consider how we fooled ourselves into believing that our data holds no personal value and that the sharing of our digital diaries is an inescapable part of the Internet…
We must reclaim ownership and value of our data.
But what precisely is that value? To give an estimate, advertisers spend approximately £27 billion a year on digital marketing in the UK alone, which for the most part goes straight to Big Tech. This equates to around £80 per household per month. This staggering evaluation leaves little doubt as to why our data has been so exploited — it is a precious commodity, yet one in which its creators hold no share of the reward. Advertisers are partially responsible for encouraging such pervasive and unjust looting of consumer data. Ultimately, it is the enormous paycheck that they have provided Twitter, Facebook and co. that has encouraged this activity. Advertisers must play their part in changing this.
But first, consumers must embolden themselves by resisting this digital hegemony. We must demand remuneration for our data by moving en masse to direct-consumer marketing platforms that return cash rewards in exchange for data. Advertisers must also facilitate this transition; with direct access to target consumers through such platforms, they have a unique opportunity to change their mission statement from selling to selling and rewarding, realizing this by offering consumers exclusive benefits and cash rewards for their data.
Such platforms allow consumers to determine the level of data access they wish to share, with rewards varying dependently. For instance, a consumer may choose to provide copies of their shopping receipts while remaining anonymous for an entry-level cash reward. Meanwhile, the most active consumers help develop the platform’s feedback loop and in exchange receive access to higher-value cash rewards. Within this setup exists an intrinsic market evaluation for consumer data that commissions its creators on a quid pro quo basis.
Ultimately, the use of such platforms is paving the way for a future where consumers are remunerated for access to their data. Success is dependent on the ability of such platforms to provide a credible marketing alternative for advertisers, and on consumers to announce their position through mass migration onto such platforms. In order to stay competitive, Big Tech will be forced to reward consumers for data as well, ending decades of unjust looting. This will result in a dramatic change in the relationship between consumers, data, and advertisers, establishing that the fundamental right to consumer data belongs to its creators and marking an important milestone in the Digital Age.
Mohsin Rashid is the 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. 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.