When it comes to personal data, consumers today are wielding more control over what information they share and with whom. But what does that mean for the matchmakers who rely on that data to reach and keep their consumers? Rob Shavell, cofounder and CEO of Abine, joined this week’s The Matchmaker Is In series, hosted by Karen Webster and economist and “Matchmakers” author David Evans, to discuss why consumer privacy doesn’t have to mean bad news for matchmakers.
Friction, and the elimination of it, is what successful matchmakers solve — and solve for successfully. Sometimes, those frictions are how hard it is to find suppliers to meet a demand or finding an easy way to make a payment inside of a marketplace.
Other times, it is how much control consumers have over their personal information and whether that lack of control keeps them from getting on board.
With an increasing number of data breaches and the ongoing debate on where to draw the lines of personal privacy, many consumers are taking the protection of their personal information into their own hands.
Sometimes, that means abandoning an online transaction or using an ad blocker. Other times, it means using data protection tools that empower them to decide how and when they want to be contacted and by whom.
What are the implications of those actions of matchmakers who want an always-on consumer all of the time?
In this week’s episode of The Matchmaker Is In series, hosts Karen Webster and David Evans, economist and author of “Matchmakers: The New Economics of Multisided Platforms,” hear from Rob Shavell, cofounder and CEO of Abine, who believes that, in the case of data privacy, consumer interests and business interests don’t necessarily have to be at odds.
A Reluctance To Share
It’s no surprise many consumers are more concerned than ever about how their data is being shared and used.
From news headlines about data breaches and Edward Snowden, it’s clear that sharing too much data could backfire.
While there’s been a lot of discussion around the globe about online privacy — and privacy in general — the fact remains that merchants rely heavily on having access to consumer data for many business purposes, especially marketing and outreach.
The more anonymous consumers get, the less merchants know who they are really selling to.
But Shavell explained that people protecting their privacy doesn’t have to be anti-merchant or anti-marketing.
His company Abine acts as a matchmaker of sorts between consumers and the platforms and websites they wish to interact with by enabling consumers to choose what personal information they wish to share with which third parties.
Through software in the form of apps and web browser extensions, consumers can essentially tokenize their personal information — be it payment credentials or email addresses — before that information is shared.
Research about the themes and consumer behaviors related to privacy has shown that most consumers typically fall somewhere in the middle of two extremes: those that are willing to share their information for a speedier online experience and those that always choose to protect their personal information from every site.
Shavell said there is a strong correlation between online merchants that have recent data breaches and users choosing to use mass virtual credit cards (tokenized versions of their own payment card data) instead of putting their actual payment cards on file with vendors.
The Anonymous Consumer
As consumers continue to shift towards anonymity in the retail space, it begs the question of whether merchants are losing out.
But as Shavell pointed out, it’s all about balance.
He drew on the example of protecting a user’s email address by sending a unique (but not fake) email address to a merchant rather than the consumer’s email address itself. This not only protects the consumer’s privacy, but it also allows the merchant to still market to them directly.
The difference is: It’s on the consumer’s terms.
Shavell said that, each month, Abine enables about 50 million emails to move from merchants and other third parties to its consumer user base, and only about 5 percent of users choose to block those marketing emails.
“Individuals want to protect some degree of their privacy or gain some amount of control in a marketing relationship but yet are still quite receptive to getting traditional email and other forms of marketing from merchants. So, I think, there’s some win-win,” he added.
Going forward, Shavell said there is still work to be done in helping to close the loop to merchants by enabling good APIs for those merchants interested in getting feedback from the user base and learning how to best optimize the channels of communication.
“The future does lie in merchants being able to better understand the demographic of people around the world that are going to increasingly want control over their personal information and only want to buy and work with merchants that value that and understand that,” Shavell explained.
The ongoing battleground of ad blockers could serve as a cautionary tale.
Shavell estimated that nearly 250 million people actively use ad blockers, which is enough of a footprint to have significant impacts to merchants. This is why he said infrastructures are needed for connecting merchants and consumers together in a healthier way.
A New Take On Privacy
Though Abine is not your traditional matchmaker, the company does serve as a broker or enabler of a new way for identity and credential information to be exchanged online.
“While merchants may be after every last dollar and piece of data, they’re ultimately going to have to be smarter and more nuanced about what their relationship with the consumers is,” Shavell said, emphasizing the need for establishing a mix of privacy, trust and assertion of identity and credentials.
He said that, while there are opportunities for consumers and businesses to work together online in ways they haven’t before, if they don’t, there will be a big growth in things like ad blockers that can hurt businesses.
When asked about which matchmaker out there was doing things right, Shavell offered a platform that many forget was one of the first to set the standard for how many online marketplaces operate today.
His choice was Craigslist, though he added that the company has been around for so long no one really gives it credit anymore.
“In a large way, they’ve held very true to the principles that made the Craigslist marketplace work in the first place, and they haven’t muddied it up,” he said. “That has its benefits and its drawbacks, but I admire very much the consistency they displayed in keeping a model that was simple enough to work across a broad set of vertical markets intact and quite liquid.”