About a year and a half ago, I was invited down to Miami to give a powerpoint to a bunch of marketers about how internet-empowered consumers were going to destroy their companies and force them to do business better.
Beyond the funny pictures and horrifying examples, I stressed the themes of transparency, integrity, responsiveness and humility. Most of all, respect for your customers. (You can watch a portion of my presentation here). To my surprise, it went over really well at the conference. The audience was engaged and enthused and laughing, even though I was slagging them left and right. I felt relieved and elated. I really seemed to be making an impact! Though, the first question afterwards was what were the site’s demographics, which should have been my first sign that something wasn’t sinking in quite right. Still I was on my little cloud and only grew more encouraged, cocksure, even, by the various conversations I had afterwards on the bus, boat ride, at the dinner, and in the drinking that followed.
Late into the evening, after everyone was thoroughly lubricated and sitting around one of those fancy hotel pools that line Ocean Drive, my new friends started to encourage me to sell my readers’ data. Email addresses and tracking cookies and behaviors and so forth could get matched up to user records in one of those massive data places and chopped up and resold to companies for a tidy sum, I was told. They encouraged me to “grab a piece for myself” for all the hard work I had done. Say what? Hadn’t they seen the whole series of slides about respecting user privacy and how opt-in was king? Didn’t they see the one with the pickpocket and the one with the squirrel who didn’t want his data peanuts stolen? Maybe they figured it was all just my “shtick.” Maybe they were just so inside the machine that they couldn’t fathom anything wrong with their proposition. Maybe they wanted to see how corruptible I was.
In any event, I said I wasn’t interested. Some money costs too much. They replied with something like, you are from Mars and I thought, damn right, I’m proud to be a Martian.