Monday, October 2, 2017

What Is Your Data Worth?

Blog Post Written By
Rebecca Vicente, 
Baruch College

I first learned of MoviePass after my roommate recommended I purchase a monthly subscription to try it out. She started out by telling me how the subscription allows for someone to see as many movies in theaters as they wanted for the one-month fee. 

The fee used to be $50, making the pass only worth the cost if someone was planning on seeing at least 4 movies that month (figuring that an average movie ticket is $15). This seemed like a very reasonable offer, as someone could easily see a movie every weekend during a month. 

Then, she told me they recently cut the price to $10 a month, and with that she piqued my interest. At a cost of $10, all someone has to do is see one movie to make their investment back. It doesn’t seem like a profitable system, so why, and more importantly how, would a company be able to stay in business with such little obvious return?

It was soon after I started reading more into the pass that I found the reason why this ‘too good to be true’ service could afford to be too good to be true. On August 15th 2017, Helios and Matheson Analytics Inc. announced that it would be acquiring a majority stake in MoviePass Inc., and for those who don’t know Helios and Matheson Analytics Inc. is a data company that works with information services and consumer behavior patterns. Meaning that this subscription service is able to be as cheap as it is because a big data company is using and possibly selling consumer data on the back-end.

 This type of information can be used for things such as advertising and marketing to target consumers to get them to buy more products. 

We have all seen those advertisements that seem to cater to our recent searches. The ability to send information into the filter bubbles of those who are most likely to buy the product is a popular and desired trend among advertisers. In turn, data has become just like any other commodity, which can be theoretically packaged and sold. MoviePass is a prime example. 

Within their Private Policy, MoviePass states the following:

We keep track of your interactions with us and collect information related to your use of our service, including but not limited to your online activity, title selections and ratings, payment history and correspondence as well as Internet protocol addresses, device types, operating system and related activity. We use this information for such purposes as providing recommendations on movies we think will be enjoyable, personalizing the service to better reflect particular interests, helping us quickly and efficiently respond to inquiries and requests and otherwise enhancing or administering our service offering for our customers. We also provide analysis of our Users in the aggregate to prospective partners, advertisers and other third parties. We may also disclose and otherwise use, on an anonymous basis, movie ratings, consumption habits, commentary, reviews and other non-personal information about customers.

The gap between the low cost of the service to consumers, and the apparent high cost the company is paying theaters, is bridged by the company’s ability to now use the data collected from consumers in a profitable way. Although it is not explicitly stated what Helios and Matheson Analytics Inc. intends to do with MoviePass, or how much involvement they really have, one must assume that in order to make this business model work, consumer data must be highly profitable. 

I brought this information back to my roommate because I wanted to know what her thoughts were on her data being collected. She told me that it didn’t faze her one way or the other. At the end of the day, she was able to see the movies she enjoyed and have the experiences she wanted, for a rate she can afford. Plus, as she said, she is not doing anything productive with her data, so it doesn’t matter to her whether someone else wants to use it, as long as she gets what she wants from the deal. 

Data is a very abstract concept for most people, and quite worthless to ourselves. I am not the one making a profit off of my own data. I wouldn’t even know what value my data would have, or to who. Our data is being collected constantly from various sources, from our social media to our subscriptions. MoviePass made me ponder what the cost of our data is, and what we are willing to trade our data for. My roommate on one hand, is willing giving away her data in order to feed her love of watching movies. On the other hand, I’m less apt to do this because I don’t watch that many movies. However, after thinking a bit more on this topic, I’ve decided that I would gladly give away my data to any subscription service that allows me to eat at a different restaurant every night of the month for the low rate of $10 a month. For my roommate, the cost of her data is monthly movies, for me it would be food. What is your data worth to you?

References, for more information:™

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