“We have three pounds of wet stuff in our head, and we’re supposed to compete with tons of silicon? Good luck. It feels like we may have already lost.”
In a recent conversation with Karen Webster, Vaughn said that in the age of social media, of Big Tech, amid the deluge of ads and additional purchase suggestions that are ubiquitous at eCommerce checkouts, news feeds, and … well, pretty much everywhere. The problem is, businesses create fortunes on the astronomical amounts of data that are collected about all of us, without our knowledge and certainly without our consent.
The consumer doesn’t profit from that information and frequently does not relish the idea of sharing their data without intent or reward and yet it happens, all day long.
“They know that Big Tech companies like Facebook are making hundreds of billions of dollars off their data. And they are not a part of it. People are being stalked online,” he said. “How many times have you been re-targeted for something you’ve already bought?”
Invisibly’s mission, he said, is to facilitate a new relationship across its platform where individuals are pulled into a site via human interaction and consent.
In a June announcement flagging the beta launch of the platform, users could opt-in and choose the bits and pieces about themselves that will be on offer to be used by companies and advertisers and then license it to them — for a fee — as they earn points. The data are used, in turn, to craft personalized offers based on their profiles and interests.
The only way, then, to solve the social dilemma — of how information is gathered, how it is used, and how it is used for profit — is for people to have as much power with artificial intelligence (AI) as the companies do, said Vaughn.
The monetization model is a fundamental shift away from the opt-out trends that we’ve seen in recent months that have promised to be a cure-all for giving consumers control.
Apple’s recently debuted iOS 15, which allows consumers to know who’s collecting information about them — and whether they want to be part of that.
“iOS is great,” he said, but represents a “scorched earth approach.”
Consumers want to be able to discover brands and discover whether they want to engage with companies (or not) by opening an account.
But eliminating themselves from the Internet, in a way, destroying all traces, shuts consumers off from discovery.
“Do you want to just blow it up? You want to get no value from it? Well, that’s fine … If you want to go that route,” he said.
Third-party cookies are going away, which is closing another door to traditional advertising and other revenue streams. Click-through rates are abysmal, said Vaughn, where one in a thousand people click through on something they are sent — and then ignore it.
The answer, in Vaughn’s words, to crafting a better interaction that makes consumers feel empowered, to use AI to defeat the algorithms “that hunt us 24/7.”
To make it simple, Invisibly pays everyone the same amount — sidestepping the embedded controversy where everyone presumes their personal data is more valuable than the next person. Vaughn noted that “80% of people think they’re in the top drivers” of a business.
Other sites may embrace price discrimination which, (despite the name is not a negative term) denotes selling products or services to different buyers at different price points in a bid to maximize top lines and profits.
With a “flat” model, individuals can make between $60 to $100 annually, from their data, depending on the data sources to which they link.
With discriminating pricing, that number, in the next few years, could soar to $1,000 annually.
Invisibly’s system, ‘Ideally, will work that way in the future — that if your data is worth more to advertisers, then you will get a larger ‘data dividend check’ from Invisibly. But for right now, since it’s a new concept, it’s better to start with the flat payment to everybody so that we’re not having to build out a lot of complicated mechanics of following every piece of data and who licenses it.”
Regardless of the money being paid, monetizing users’ information is a way of “filtering your social media posts through your own data so that you’re in control of it — not Facebook. That’s the real juice.”
People, as they set up accounts and consent to their information being used across Invisibly’s platform, might even provide more granular data to companies that had been accessed before.
That information runs the gamut of financial transactions, are linking to every website that they’ve visited, across a vast range of touch points — giving brands a more ethical way to reach people.
In terms of mechanics, the company has browsing data tracked for its users, and users can decide to monetize their social media handles, profile questions and link bank accounts.
“You log in, we scrape your transactions. And that data is then licensed — based on what you’re interested in — to advertisers. But once you set it up after five minutes, you’re basically getting a recurring, passive income based on that data,” he said.
Realizing one’s data is worth something can have a bit of a seeding effect, where individuals seek to put their data to work in other ways.
He pointed to the potential to monetize data in other-than-passive ways. Target, for example, may want to send a user a survey — or a doctor or CPA may be targeted for specific insights related to their professions. Thus far most users skew a bit older, above the age of 45 and tend to be privacy-conscious, said Vaughn.
Other projects include licensing one’s data, and also using that information to discover new brands. The company, in two months, will be launching a “feed” of different products and events.
“It’s like Instagram, but for all of life,” Vaughn said. That tailored feed stands in stark contrast to the ad hoc nature of how advertising and Big Tech firms collect huge amounts of information on users, putting it all into a black box — and spitting out suggestions, offers and pop-ups that often miss the mark.
And, as to that retargeting headache he said, that is a hallmark of online outreach, on the Invisibly platform, consumers will be able to flag purchases already made.
Crafting multiple touch points under somebody’s profile, with brands recommended (and cash back offers) based on those touch points means “we’re going to have a much tighter coupling and a much tighter fit between brands and content and the people that want to actually buy,” he told Webster.