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The Playwall: Pay for News With Your Data

Blog. Will you pay with money to read news, or are you okay with paying with your opinions? These are two options the Dutch start-up, the Playwall, offers media companies to obtain more users and income – and become less dependent on big tech. The founders see data as a currency.

Today, many traditional news media websites are collecting both subscription fees and advertising money from their users and often their sites are crammed with marketing cookies collecting and sharing personal data with others. Those who have installed an adblocker are often told to uninstall it – or get lost.

Many media users have become accustomed to the ‘free’ Internet world without really understanding how they pay with their data. The three female founders behind The Playwall are trying to fix a solution to these freebies – a solution that does not blindly track them but makes them very aware of what they are paying for.

“We are frustrated with the way data is stolen from us today, and thankfully GDPR has come up. At the same time we have media companies who are struggling to get more data from their users and they rely too much on Facebook and Google,” explains Annefleur Schipper (to the right), founder of The Playwall. “So, we offer a transparent solution, where users understand that they are paying with their data.”

When a user will hit a news website with the Playwall they will have to answer five simple questions – defined by the media company’s website you are on. The gathered data is analyzed, stored securely and sent back to the media organization. There it – according to The Playwall’s sales pitch – can be used to enrich customer profiles, optimize branded content, increase audience engagement, have more insights in what type of personalized content their audience wants or make better deals with advertisers.

“Unless the user have an account with the media company, the companies will not know their users by name. Users will be anonymous. But the companies can still serve users with ads that are relevant for them based on aggregated data,” says Annefleur Schipper.

So, the difference between most current media models and the Playwall model is that the media company will be transparent about the payment model – pay or play – and they will get data directly from those customers, who don’t want to sign in and create an account, to be used in an aggregated anonymous way for advertising.

According to the founders’ surveys among 40.000 Dutch people only 0,3% will pay for news with money – even if there is a Playwall botton. 13,5%, however, will pay with their opinions. The younger you are, the more willing you are to pay with data, as long as it is transparent, says Schipper. The main target group for the Playwall are 18-34-year olds.

The Playwall, which can be added to any existing subscription system of the media company, has not yet launched. After a year of research and development – financed by Dutch government money and sponsorships – it is ready for a test case that will commence this summer and end in October plus a national campaign.

“We wanted to be sure that we can deliver what we promise, that people have agency over their data and can erase it anytime, and now we are ready,” says Annefleur Schipper.

You can meet The Playwall co-founders at the next European Forum for DataEthics in September