Tuning up or tuning out?

Are your iTunes tracks carefully arranged and labelled by artist, album and genre? And have you shared your interest in any of them by using Ping?

If so, you are probably very active across a range of other social networks and value the way these tools link you in with other people and companies. As a mass connector, you are also among less than one  in 16 of the online population.

For everybody else, managing and maintaining information through these channels is just too time-consuming or low interest. Following some of these leaders and being part of a group may be fun and reveal otherwise hidden gems, but it is not their primary focus in using the Net.

All of which becomes highly relevant when thinking about the issue of how to control personal information. The Direct Marketing Association has just welcomed the trial of a prototype personal data store, operated by Mydex, that claims to restore control over data back to individuals and “end the drift towards a centralised database state”.

The trial comes wrapped in all the right trimmings – involvement of the Information Commissioner and a variety of consumer bodies and academic advisors. It has DWP, several councils and the Netmums social network onboard among others. Everything about it is correct and as you might hope from an attempt to understand the appetite among both consumers and marketers for an objective intermediary of this sort.

 An important learning from the trial will be just how many consumers want to actively manage their information in this way. As with all online services, there will be a small group of early adopters and advocates. But will a critical mass have the desire – and skills – to manage their personal information in this way?

From the marketers’ perspective, that mass is a key issue. So is the question of whether to hand control over data and permissions to an intermediary and just wait for consumers to opt-in to being contacted. Previous attempts at similar schemes, such as The Preference Service, struggled with both of these aspects of the data store model. Brands will probably be loth to forgo control over their own ability to push messages.

Consumers signing up to Mydex may also wonder if they really are slipping the leash of centralised databases. Experian is one of the triallists – the very company which may be tasked with managing benefit fraud and whose data assets already cause concerns to some civil libertarians.

Online tools and control panels are undoubtedly part of the future for data. Like most consumers’ iTunes libraries, however, messy and disorganised seems a more likely state for some time to come.

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