Secondary Markets

Startup Takes Your Personal Data, Forces Brands To Compete To Sell You Stuff

Founder Mike Grassotti say that you want to be stolen away from your favorite brands.
Screen Shot 2014-04-30 at 4.38.02 PM

(photo via OwnOut)

We know that Facebook, Gmail, Twitter, and other services leverage our data to benefit from marketers and advertisers. But a new startup called OwnOut wants to help you get in on the action by leveraging your own data to pit brands against each other in a fight for your loyalty.

“We help brands steal customers,” OwnOut Founder Mike Grassotti said yesterday — nine times actually — at a presentation for ERA Demo Day.

It works like this: customers give over their email account so OwnOut can go in and examine their purchasing habits. If that seems scary, consider: you’ve likely already given that data away to other online services — OwnOut just wants you to benefit directly.

OwnOut’s brand logo — or Anti-Flag's next album cover. (Photo by Betabeat)

OwnOut’s brand logo — or Anti-Flag’s next album cover. (Photo by Betabeat)

Once they figure out what brands people prefer, they try and find other brands that those customers might be interested in, and get in touch with those brands to see if they’d like to steal those customers away with special deals and services.

Does your data indicate you’re you a big H&M shopper? OwnOut could convince Zara or Uniqlo to try and win you over with a targeted sale. Do you sacrifice a chunk of your paycheck to Starbucks each month? OwnOut could approach Cups on your behalf and see if they wanted to offer you a membership on the cheap.

“Say we have 1,000 people with the same shopping characteristics,” Mr. Grassotti told Betabeat. “You’ll find that 100 of those people will have found things and made purchases the others haven’t yet, but we can predict that the others would want it. Then we reach out to that brand.”


Why Let Facebook Have All The Fun?

Dutch college student Shawn Buckles was sick of companies like Facebook and Google using his data to fuel their businesses. So he decided to take matters into his own hands and hold an auction for his “datasoul”. Read the whole story here.


Giving away all of your personal information might feel like exposing yourself, but OwnOut doesn’t let the brands touch any of the raw data. Retail brands don’t even get your email address — OwnOut is the middleman making connections and passing along offers that might interest consumers.

“Google could be doing this with the data they have, but they’re not.” Mr. Grassotti said — and it’s companies like Google that take heat for the way they’ve been using this data to no customer benefit. Some people have begun to strike back, including one Dutch college kid who sold all of his personal data in an auction.

In the first days of developing OwnOut, Mr. Grassotti knew he wanted to make something anti-establishment, but that hatred for Big Data doesn’t necessarily get people to fight back against exploitation. For that, you need to give people a little financial incentive.

“People might believe they don’t like their data used in a certain way, but to get them to take action, you have to give them some benefit,” Mr. Grassotti said.

To that end, it’s nice to see people take responsibility for the way their data is sold and distributed — even if it’s only to get a deal for half priced men’s jeggings.

Follow Jack Smith IV on Twitter or via RSS. jsmith@observer.com