Personal data is a valuable commodity. Many people will happily tell a brand their age, their income, their education level etc, as long as they get something in return. Points, coupons, gifts, cash – the more you want to know, the higher the payout. $5 might get you a three-page online survey, but if you want someone to show up for a focus group, it’s going to cost $30 and up.
Every year, big brands fork over millions to either gather or buy data on their customers but NBC just got 300,000 people to give up their personal data for free.
Okay, so they had to pay out $2.6 million to the winner of their flop of a summer game show but that’s chump change compared to the value of the acquired data.
How did they get the information? By offering people a shot at being on TV.
“The Million Second Quiz” was one of the most complicated game shows ever. Here’s the description:
The competition, where time equals money, will air in primetime, LIVE from a three-story hourglass-shaped structure in the heart of Manhattan. Money is accumulated by sitting in the “Money Chair” and answering trivia questions against a rival. For each second a player remains in the chair the money meter will add $10 to the total. The longer a contestant stays in the chair, the more money is added until he/she is defeated by a challenger. During the million seconds the top players who have accumulated the largest amounts of money up to that point in the game will live next to the hourglass in “Winners’ Row” and try to survive there until the million seconds are up. Other contestants will displace them if they achieve longer runs in the money chair. When the countdown clock hits zero only the final few contestants who have made it to the end cash in their winnings and battle it out for the grand prize.
Then there are the “line jumpers” – these are people who play at home using with a synchronized app. They have an opportunity to become a “line jumper” which means you hop on a plane and fly to Los Angeles to compete in the game the next day. Insane.
According to The Wrap, 300,000 people played the online portion of the game revealing more personal information about themselves than most people do after three years of marriage. In addition to the usual demographic questions, they were also asked about clubs they belong to, the type of cell phone they use, the important people in their lives and their habits.
NBC also collected Facebook and Twitter account information and more than half of those who participated opted in to further communication from NBC.
What is NBC going to do with all of this information? Contestants probably assumed their applications would go through the shredder now that the show is over, but NBC has other plans. They say they’re not going to share the data with advertisers but that they might use it to help chose the best programs and advertisements for the audience.
The questionnaire did come with four pages of legalese including a paragraph that said NBC could: “use anonymous data in aggregate form for purposes of research or analysis.” That means legally, they’re in the clear if someone gets mad. Privacy experts say NBC should have been more transparent, but honestly, it’s 2013 – people should know better. If you’re going to hand over information to a TV network, you have to expect they’ll use that information to make money.