WTF Moment: ‘Crowdsourced’ Data for Sale

I’ve been hard at work on what I hope will be a helpful and insightful post about how I approach building my marketing tech stack. However, I just had an experience that I had to share immediately, so the other post can wait.

Does anyone remember the old days of Jigsaw and how that database was built up? Maybe you know of Jigsaw, but you don’t know how they got their data. Well let me tell you: it was built on the concept of ‘crowdsourcing.’ Jigsaw had 2 types of customers: those that paid for access to the database, and those that earned it. How was it earned? By entering data into the database. For every XX# of contact records you entered, you earned access to information on X# of records you were looking for. This data had to be entered by hand, which theoretically would make it more accurate than a file which was imported in mass, right? Hm, ok sure.

For small companies with a small marketing budget, this seemed like a beautiful thing, but there are some critical flaws in the model:

  • Presumably, the company entering the data would only be entering data they owned and had a right to share, such as their own employee records. But the deal was the number of records entered must exceed he number consumed, so what’s the likelihood that a small company has more employees on staff than prospecting targets? Strike one.
  • But wait! I’m forgetting the big companies, surely they have a sufficient employee database size to share in exchange for prospecting data provided by others? They might, but they also have sufficient budgets to buy the data they want outright. Strike two.
  • Ok, you might be thinking that there must be some validity to the assertion that data entered by hand with care and intention must be better. I attest that is a nice theory but utter hooey. I feel I have the authority to say that because I was the person entering that data by hand. Yup, in college I had a part-time job for a small company entering data from a 100 page paper packet of employee roster names acquired from who-the-hell-knows-where into Jigsaw so that my employer could extract prospect names. If you ever engage in an unedited virtual exchange with me you’d realize pretty quickly that any data entered by me was probably riddled with typos. Now, I’m sure this was NOT Jigsaw’s intent, but that was the reality. Strike 3.

At this point, by the rules of baseball we’d say this is sufficient to call “OUT!” but I can’t help but mention one more teeny-weeny detail that others may consider a non-issue but frankly. gets my blood boiling: ethics. By global standards, the US is a pretty liberal country when it comes to data privacy laws. What I just outlined above simply wouldn’t be legal in many other countries. In the US, it is, so let’s put the legality of the matter aside, and ignore the logical shortcomings identified above and just focus on the ethics of it all.

Ethics are not black and white, but for the most part (and forgive me this oversimplification) I think most ethical issues can be boiled down to this: the golden rule. Treat others as you would like to be treated. Would you want your personal information pimped out for the gain of your company? I think most people would say “no.”

Ok, enough background ranting…fast forward to today:

This morning (very early I might add) I received a phone call from a company, which will not be named, attempting to sell me crowdsourced data. The enthusiastic sales guy cited all the great reasons (listed above) that crowdsourced data is superior, and even cited pre-acquisition Jigsaw as the model they have emulated. Apparently, in 10 years we have not evolved a sense of self-awareness, logic, or morals to apply to this methodology. Sigh.

However, we have achieved an evolution of technology. Gone are the days of manual data entry into a dedicated platform. And gone are the days where we have to waste valuable time tediously picking and choosing whose data we will share. Now, all we need to do is install a nifty app onto our phones and it will scan and extract all of our contacts’ data for us, send it to the vendor and be instantly available on the market for anyone who wants to buy it. WTF?!

I actually don’t know whether this is true, but presumably since this is a real company, that means that it is lawful for me to decide to install an application onto my phone and share the personal contact information of my fiends, family and colleagues with another company who will then sell that information to other companies. I won’t even give contact info of my colleagues to someone who I know and asks for a referral without the consent of the colleague whom I would like to refer. Call me over-cautious but that, to me, is simply common courtesy and good business behavior.

It took everything in my power to graciously explain why this was not something I was personally interested in for my own moral reasons, nor was it something I felt my company would be interested in. My lack of enthusiasm was apparently baffling to the person on the other end of the line. Maybe it was because I hadn’t yet had my morning coffee (yes, it was that early), or maybe I’m just a bad American, but the lack of comprehension for why this is an egregious offense and horrifying business model had my blood pumping and my ears burning. What’s worse, obviously there are people out there that install this app and betray their contacts, and there are companies that buy and use this data. Presumably to riddle my inbox with SPAM and blow up my phone with obnoxious calls all day long.

Note to my friends, family and colleagues: if you give away or sell my contact data for any reason unsanctioned by me, we’re fighting.  

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