Your Data or Your Dollars: Putting a Price on User Data and Consent

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The cookie-less landscape that publishers and marketers are facing down has led to some understandable hand-wringing, not to mention some hands simply being thrown in the air.

From where I sit — squarely in not only the publishing and marketing industries but also the software industry catering to both publishers and marketers — this no-cookies eventuality is nothing more than an opportunity for all hands on deck to get back to the drawing board, to reprioritize certain basics and outline essential game-plans.

We’ve discussed the renewed importance of first-party data (the information that users share willingly) and even programmatic advertising (to make the most out of the data you do procure), but one of the back-to-basics factors that we don’t often put on the board is, well, how much that data might be worth in the first place.

In a paper that will be presented at the 2022 Workshop on Privacy in the Electronic Society next month, researchers analyzed news sites across Central Europe in an attempt to simplify what consent is worth to them. Finding the value of private browsing in this specific region made particular sense due to the proliferation of cookie paywalls.

What’s a cookie paywall? Imagine the Accept Cookies prompt you’re familiar with, but instead of a button to confirm your choices, it’s a two-button option to either accept the cookies or pay up.

The paper’s title, Your Consent Is Worth 75 Euros A Year – Measurement and Lawfulness of Cookie Paywalls, hints at just how costly privacy could ultimately be for consumers.

“The paper documents how it would cost a whopping €728 a year (about $706) to avoid tracking on just those 13 websites,” Gizmodo wrote in its breakdown. “When the researchers checked Der Standard, an Austrian newspaper, it cost €75 a year to avoid tracking on that website alone.”

Ultimately, the paper concludes that cookie paywalls will require further attention from researchers and legislators alike, as well as a recalibration of the fundamental concerns. “Finally, future work includes user-centered studies answering questions such as: (1) Do users actually pay for subscriptions? (2) Which reasons motivate a possible payment? Generally speaking, are cookie paywalls yet another variation of a dark pattern used to nudge users?”

Gizmodo points to a recent Technology Policy Institute study that found most people willing to trade their online privacy for less than $10. “If it’s a choice between data and a subscription fee,” Gizmodo says, “most people will probably choose to save the cash.”

Do your site visitors share more information if it means free or immediate content? At what price-point would you allow visitors to forgo having to share any data whatsoever?


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