Two years ago, I said that by 2020, 90% of the U.S. population would have willingly agreed to provide at least some of their personal data to the MAW—the omnipresent collision of media, advertising and work in our everyday lives. Now I'm starting to think that my estimate was too conservative. The pace of massive data acquisition is picking up steam. The faster the changes come at us, the sooner the next changes appear.

There are many explanations for the acceleration, but the most important seems to be that no one expected many different inducements, incentives, and trade-offs to converge on each of us so quickly, specifically, simultaneously and, frankly, pretty much inescapably.

This is another party to which I hope you’re not waiting for an invitation. You and your team need to get into the data marketplace before your business gets priced out of the game by middlemen happy to resell data at a premium, and before you get shut out of the market by faster and deeper-pocketed competitors.  

Compared to the military-industrial complex – last century’s tired old whipping boy -- the MAW is slightly more benign. It doesn't so much control our lives as it engulfs and overwhelms us with sticks and carrots that continually influence our behavior. 

The key notion, above, is that "we agreed" to share this information. I’m not talking about the huge amount of information we have inadvertently parted with. I'm talking about the extent to which each of us has made a deal - a conscious transaction - to trade some of our personal data for a perceived benefit. Some incentives are virtual and slight at best (like digital badges and certain utterly inconsequential “achievements”), but many others have clear financial benefits. 

What kinds of value are we talking about? The list grows daily. You might trade your personal data because:

  • We’re all basically lazy and would rather do less work than more
  • We hate re-entering the same info over and over in order to perform recurring activities
  • We become invested in an activity as a result of our prior effort and commitment
  • We’ve “connected” with others who are important to us in a shared context, so it becomes convenient to continue and difficult to depart;
  • We develop habits that are difficult to break or abandon without a reason
  • The smartest players actively engage us, so we stay
  • We receive financial rewards for our participation.

One of the neatest new deals has been created by a couple of the largest U.S. auto insurers. If you let Allstate (thru its Drivewise program) or Progressive (thru the Snapshot offering) track your driving activities for a relatively short period of time, you can earn major discounts on your car insurance. It’s a good deal for anyone who’s a decent driver. We can expect to see more offers like this.

With tools like FitBit and other biomedical tracking devices, it’s easy to see how many of our daily activities will soon be available for researchers, marketers, economists, and behaviorists to purchase and to study.

Alternatively, you can pay up to be left alone.  If you’re sick of being swamped with ads on your Kindle, you can pay a fee to cut them off. At the end of the day, it’s all just math and money.


We’re all involved in competitive markets. The winners will be those with the biggest guns, the best technology, and, above all, the most accurate and complete data.

Think of this as fair warning – your competitors are dropping big dollars for data. If you don’t want to be left in the dust, you need to get into the game.