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That’s me, roughly every month, trying to reduce the insane number of spam e-mails I receive from companies I’ve never given my e-mail address to. OnStar, Lyft, Nordstrom, someone named Maria Wang who sells custom machinery. However, just because I didn’t give my e-mail address, doesn’t mean others haven’t.
Let’s face it – selling personal data (names, e-mail addresses, home addresses, purchase histories, etc.) is a big business. And by big, I mean BILLIONS kind of big. Companies earn billions of dollars in extra revenue by selling their customers’ data to other companies who want to target those same customers or users. Almost everything we do online is tracked and shared/sold for financial gain. Ever wonder why Facebook is showing you an ad for the exact pair of shoes you had recently been viewing on another website?
Almost all companies are doing it. Your cable provider, electricity company, credit card providers, store loyalty programs, you name it. Internet providers are even legally able to sell your search history! Everyone (well, almost everyone) is selling your data to one another in an endless cycle of revenue for them, and spam for you. The worst part? Not only has this become a standard business practice, but it is also being encouraged, such as in this article by the Harvard Business Review.
In the wake of the recent Facebook data scandal, sharing/selling user data has been in the national spotlight, and Facebook has taken some major heat for it. In fact, so much light has been shed on the sharing of user data, that countless articles are now being written about “How to download a copy of everything Facebook knows about you,” and “How to get smarter about your online footprint.” And here we thought the Internet would set us free. That sure escalated quickly.
Serving the college student market, My College Roomie uses the names and addresses of hundreds of thousands of students each year to offer our roommate matching services. And as you might expect, we’re no strangers to being contacted by data buyers (we have other names for them, which may not be appropriate for this article) looking to buy our student data, or install scripts on our platforms to collect student email addresses. We’ve been offered anywhere from $.10 to $.60 per each unique student email address, which can add up to a big chunk of change across all our users.
To quantify further, I scanned my inbox for the prior 24 months, and found exactly 17 unique offers to purchase My College Roomie user data – either from data brokers or companies looking to market directly to college students. While we could easily earn almost as much revenue selling data as we do selling software, my reply to each of those 17 requests was a canned, “Per company policy, we do not sell or share our user data. Please remove us from your contact list.”
If I’ve learned one thing starting and growing a company that serves the higher education industry, it is that you will not succeed without building strong relationships with your clients and partners. We don’t sell widgets on a web store, where our customers are faceless order numbers. Each client and partner is the result of a personal relationship that developed over time into a business relationship, where those partners felt comfortable enough to trust my company and I to serve their needs and deliver results. Above all, our partners trust us to provide a great service to their students, who they serve with passion.
So, for My College Roomie, selling or sharing our users’ information would not only annoy a great number of our student users, but it would be a huge breach of trust with our partners – something we will never be willing to do. Our partners’ trust is the foundation of our business, and without it, our foundation and the sound reputation we have built upon it would crumble.
We don’t believe that sharing or selling data is the right thing to do for any company. Queue the Golden Rule. We greatly dislike when others sell our personal data, so we’re not going to contribute to that way of doing business and subject our loyal users to the same spammy fate. Also, we’ll be damned if we willingly do anything to breach the trust of our loyal partners and their students.
We may be one of the few who can say this, but if you or your students are My College Roomie users, rest assured that your information is safe with us!