Imagine yourself in Times Square in New York City at 5 p.m. “In the midst of that chaos, there’s so much information coming your way.” The swarm of people bustling through the city square, the messages splayed on the enormous video screens, the marquees for the Broadway theaters, each is a discrete data point, able to be gathered, analyzed, and used.
Thanks to the ubiquity of internet-enabled devices in our lives, we now live in a data economy.
Nearly everything we do — from the songs we listen to; to the shows we watch; heck, even just walking down the street — now results in the creation of data.
That’s why Angela Benton founded Streamlytics, a company that allows consumers to see who is harvesting their data, how it’s being used — and how to get their cut.
“Imagine a world where you own and control who has access to your data, and you also get compensated for it.”Angela Benton
That’s Streamlytics’ vision of a fairer data economy.
Streamlytics users get a chance to be a willing participant in the transactions driving the data economy, rather than unwitting bystanders.
When making an account with Streamlytics consumer data monetization apps, users can see a variety of platforms that can collect their personal usage data. Streamlytics then provides detailed instructions on how users can request their personal data from each individual platform. (Data privacy laws, such as the California Consumer Privacy Act, dictate that websites must hand over personal data to a user when requested.)
Users can upload their various personal datasets to Streamlytics, where they can then control what data they are willing to sell to marketers and also sign a data license that says they own the data that they upload. And marketers can buy and access the data knowing that they have the consumer’s express consent to do so, and that they are fully in compliance with data privacy regulations.
Investor and Streamlytics user Bie Aweh was able to request her personal data from sites as varied as UberEats and Netflix. Since joining Streamlytics, she’s earned more than $600 monetizing her data on the platform.
“Before Streamlytics, I didn’t know the process of how to take back my data,” Aweh says.
For Benton, Streamlytics is about more than making an easy buck, though. It’s about increased data privacy awareness among consumers, and a social movement toward a more transparent, more equitable internet and economy — most of their user data currently comes from the African-American community, which can be shut out of the spaces where this data and money flows. Conversely, the African American community wields over $3 Trillion in spending power as only 12.8 percent of the total population.
“We started with the African-American community, but the goal is really to do that in other fast-growing communities around the world,” Benton says.
It’s about data privacy and data ownership.
“People just don’t want to be tracked anymore,” Benton says. “It’s creepy. The mood of society is changing where that’s just not acceptable and it’s not the world we want to live in.”
A world of data
In and of itself, data isn’t bad. Data, on its own, is neutral. The disconcerting part about the data economy is that data is often tracked and stored by tech companies in the U.S. without our knowledge. It’s not always clear when and where this data collection occurs, and what companies do with the data once it’s harvested.
This data creation and collection practice touches even the most seemingly mundane aspects of our lives, such as the music we listen to and the TV shows we watch. “When I’m sitting on the couch, watching TV, data is being collected,” says Aweh.
When data gets personal
The data economy also includes our personal communications, and more sensitive data, such as medical information. There’s also data people would just rather share publicly, such as their recent fitness performance, as tracked by any number of internet-enabled fitness devices on the market.
“I think about my morning routine,” Aweh says. “The first thing I do is hop on my Peloton. I’m very conscious of tracking my workouts, because I’m obsessed with closing my Apple Watch rings.” Immediately afterward, she prepares her children’s school lunches, logging their meals in her diet tracking app. After that, she’s on her computer the rest of the day for work.
At all steps she’s creating data points, many of which she’d prefer to keep private, that are bought and sold by advertisers, publishers, market research firms and tech firms. These companies profit, while Aweh sees nothing.
“There are large technology companies that are making multi-billion dollar transactions off of our data every day.”Angela Benton
“They are looking at your activity all the time, and they can scrape that information without your consent,” Aweh adds.
Educating the masses
Companies get away with this because of consumer ignorance.
“The data economy has profited off of folks such as myself not understanding, and for me, at a particular time of my life, having no desire to understand how the data economy works,” Aweh says.
That education includes lessons about third-party tracking cookies, tiny pieces of software that are uploaded to a user’s web browser every time they visit a website. Third-party cookies track a consumer’s behavior across different websites, allowing marketers to glean insights into a person’s likes, dislikes and various consumption proclivities. And the vast majority of times, this occurs without the consumer’s knowledge, let alone their consent.
Companies get rich off of compiling and selling these datasets — they’re incredibly valuable to advertisers — but the consumers generating the data don’t see a dime. Streamlytics hopes to educate users on this invisible, powerful economy all around them — one that’s all about them. And get you paid for it, to boot.
The next internet
The principles of data ownership and privacy central to Streamlytics are also at the heart of Web3, what may be the future of the internet.
“Streamlytics is really at the beginning part of this transition between Web 2.0, which is super social media heavy, everything is free, companies are using your data, to Web3, which is really the future and where everything is going,” Benton said.
Web3 is an umbrella term for technologies and philosophies aimed at creating an internet that is more community-based and decentralized.
“And it is pro-privacy, where people who are using the technologies have ownership and control over their data,” Benton said.
Web3 is going to be driven by the individuals who will own their data, Debra Farber, a data privacy expert with over a decade in the field, said — a shift driven by public sentiment. The large internet providers and companies which dominate web 2.0 have allowed us to connect to each other in new ways, but have had unforeseen consequences; companies can now track our locations, interests, and passions, and the data we generate is the unseen revenue stream powering that “free” internet.
“People are demanding more respect for their rights, more respect for them as individuals, more compensation for use of their data.”Debra Farber
And that demand is growing and vocal in a way Farber had never seen before.
Web3 proponents see a future internet where individuals have more control over the data they generate, and third party cookies have gone the way of the dodo. It’s a near-future which the Streamlytics platform provides now. “Truly it’s about leveling the playing field and knowing that everyone has access,” Aweh said.
“Most importantly, everyone knows how to get paid from that data. And I think that for me is the future state of where Streamlytics has the opportunity to take us to.”