Saturday, September 22, 2007

The Price of Privacy (comScore edition)

The data from comScore are used extensively to analyze trends about internet companies, and are also used by academic researchers when doing web research and need user behavior data. The breadth of information that comScore captures about the users is breath-taking. Almost all the clicks, URLs, and queries submitted by a user are available to researchers that get access to the collected data. Even though comScore does not release any personally identifiable information about its panelists, it is not impossible to infer a lot about each individual user by looking at their Internet behavior. (The examples from the AOL query log are plenty.)

So, I have been wondering what comScore offers to the users to convince them to participate in the comScore panel. According to comScore, the benefits that their panelists get are:
  • Security software applications such as server-based virus protection, remote data storage, encrypted local storage, Internet history removal
  • Attractive sweepstakes prizes
  • Opportunity to impact and improve the Internet
Still, I thought that this cannot be everything. The offerings were not at all lucrative to convince someone to release so much personal information. Today, though, I got my answer. Someone called me from comScore and after asking me a long list of demographic-related questions (to which I lied systematically), I was offered to be one of the panelists for comScore, and have all my internet behavior tracked and recorded, so that I can "have the opportunity to impact and improve the Internet" (yeah!). Then the coveted lucrative prize was revealed: $25 when I download the software and $5 per month afterwards, (plus the benefits listed above).

So, now you know. Your privacy is worth a couple of double espressos per month. You have already surrendered for free everything about you to Google researchers. Now you can get paid $5/month to have the rest of the world to look at your Internet habits.