What's Your Data Worth?
Amazon is reportedly offering certain customers $2 per month in exchange for letting the company monitor the traffic on their phones.
People reading that last sentence will likely have one of three reactions:
Heck no! No way, not a chance!*
That sounds great... sign me up!
$2 a month? Nice try, Bezos... now show me the money!
I'm in the "show me the money" camp, myself.
I'm happy to have companies know almost everything about me... but in return, I want some tangible benefit that makes the exchange worthwhile.
Take Google. Google offers me a web browser, email services, answers to many of my questions, directions on how to get to my next meeting (and how long it will take me to do so), business software, and so much more... and none of it costs me any money. All Google wants in return for these services is to understand how I use the internet and monetize that information with advertisers. I think that's more than a fair exchange, since paying for all of these services separately would likely cost me hundreds of dollars a year. Even better, Google uses what it knows about me to increase the relevance of the advertising it shows me, which means those ads are less annoying and more helpful. That's a benefit too!
Facebook does less for me, but still gives me a way to share personal updates, memes, and news articles with my family and friends. In exchange, they show me advertising and charge advertisers for the privilege of appearing in my newsfeed. It's not quite as rich an offer as what Google "pays" me for my information, but it's a fair enough exchange that I continue to use the service... and Facebook continues to monetize my data.
There's a tech adage that states, "if you're not paying for the product, you are the product."
I'm perfectly happy to be the product... I simply want to be priced appropriately.
And $2 a month just isn't enough to be worth it.
Given the tremendous advertising and attribution value of knowing exactly how people are using the internet on their phones, I'm surprised Amazon isn't making their offer more appealing. Here are three things they could have easily done to get more people interested:
1. Offer subsidized smartphones. Amazon could choose to work with established internet providers to offer highly subsidized smartphones in exchange for being allowed to access all of the data it collects by way of normal usage. An iPhone 14 Plus (with 512GB storage) currently costs $1,669; if Amazon would let you buy it for $999 in exchange for guaranteed access to your browsing history for four years, would that be a tempting offer? It is for me... and it would cost Amazon less than $14 a month based on the MSRP of the phone.
2. Offer an Amazon Fire Phone with "free service". Yes, Amazon doesn't make a smartphone. In fact, they tried that once, and it was considered a failure. But if the company is serious about monitoring web traffic at scale, developing a decent phone and then offering consumers "free service" in exchange for their data would be a really interesting way to accomplish their goal. And as long as they made it very clear in the marketing of the device that the consumers were paying for their subsidized phone and service with their data, you'd have informed consent.
3. Increase the Offer. I've saved the obvious idea until last: offer consumers more than $2 a month in exchange for monitoring their activity.
Amazon could just offer cash, but there are two even better ways for the company to do this:
a) Offer a gift card to Amazon, which means the true cost of the data isn't the value of the gift card (it's the COGS for whatever the customer orders);
b) Let people who opt-in to the monitoring program earn their Amazon Prime subscription. In Canada, Amazon Prime currently costs $8.25 per month if you pay for it upfront. Yes, that's a lot more than $2 / month... but that's the point. Consumers who are already Prime Members get a rebate on their subscriptions, which is just like cash in their pockets. Consumers who don't currently subscribe get to enjoy all of the benefits a Prime subscription offers, such as free shipping, free Prime Video, free photo storage, and more. Also, Amazon Prime Members spend over twice as much on Amazon as non-Prime Members, so getting current non-users enrolled in the program is extremely beneficial to the retail behemoth, even if they're "only" paying with their data.
But... Amazon didn't do any of these things.
Instead, they offered $2 a month.
At this point, I'm reminded of an old joke I heard years ago, which I'll paraphrase below:
Man: "Madam, would you sleep with me for five million dollars?"
Woman: "My goodness, that's a lot of money. Well, yes, I suppose I would."
Man: "Would you sleep with me for five dollars?"
Woman: "Sir! What kind of woman do you think I am?!"
Man: "Madam, we've already established that. Now we are haggling about the price.”
We established what type of consumer I am at the very beginning of this post.
But if Amazon wants what I have to offer, they'll need to continue haggling over the price.
*"Heck no" is the PG-rated version of what privacy advocates would likely be thinking.