How close are we to our own currency?

There’s been a lot of talk recently about new currencies around the world developed and owned by brands to reward loyalty from customers. Loyalty cards and rewards points are a dime a dozen these days on the high street and of course help to hone many a buying decision.

A recent TED talk by Paul Kemp-Robertson discussed the rise of Amazon’s new currency and Nike Sweat – pledge your sweat for points – as a consumer’s trust is more in businesses than in traditional institutions such as banks and governments.

Ultimately, these currencies are owned and run by the big brands themselves. Even though the consumer might believe that it gives them more power in the market place, does it?

Behind all of these schemes are the machinations that make it all possible. Analytics chew through mountains of statistics and data to pinpoint what we as consumers do with our money, what we buy, create special offers on our most purchased items and make recommendations of our related products – along with creating profiles on us.

This was highlighted further recently with an article in Fast Company, detailing the level of analysis gathering occurring in high street stores. Add what’s been uncovered through Snowden-gate and we have ample concern about our privacy – the how, what, where, when and most importantly, why.

What’s needed in this relationship, is for the key players to change position. Consumers should be their own gatekeepers on who can access their information and to what degree. Not the brands. Subscribing to these reward schemes promotes the risk of multiple data sets stored in faraway databases with price tags on them. Perhaps what is needed is a currency that each and every one of us own. Not controlled by a faceless organisation in an indeterminable location doing god only knows what with. If there is a place for governments in this consumer-controlled world, it is to set the infrastructure to firmly place consumers in the driving seat.

A system that gives power to the consumer to enter into permission-based transactions. Knowing that their behaviour will be tracked and analysed, a consumer chooses who to give their consent to – those stores or brands which they trust to do business with regularly. The consumer chooses the amount of information given and could involve progressive disclosure over a period of time – as the trust with the vendor grows based on an ongoing and amiable relationship. This getting of information is gained through good customer relations and old fashioned service, rather than just because they have the means to do it. In return, the consumer gets rewards, free product, gifts, etc.

Our data is what these brands want. With this information, they can analyse our behaviours and our habits to improve their marketing efforts and their product offering. But so far this has been a lopsided transaction. We willingly tick terms and conditions check boxes on websites that waives the organisation concerned of any wrongdoing if a leak of privacy occurs. Still sounds way out of the control of those whose data is mined – us, you and me.

Anya Kamenetz speaks of apps enabling payment for making monetising our data online. One site in particular – Reputation.com – will soon be offering a feature that allows customers to offer up their data in return for free product, but with what controls?

Either way, the times may be achanging for establishments that mine, store and manipulate our data for their own purposes. Our privacy should be our own global currency.

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