Compete CEO: ISPs Sell Clickstreams For $5 A Month

by: Henry Blodget

At the Open Data 2007 conference in New York today, David Cancel, the CEO of Compete Inc. revealed that ISPs happily sell clickstream data -- and that it's a big business. They don't sell your name -- just your clicks -- but the clicks are tied to you as a specific user (User 1, User 2, etc.).

How much are your clicks worth? About 40 cents a month per user (per customer)... and the Compete CEO estimates that there are 10-12 big buyers of this data. In other words, your ISP is probably making about $5 a month ($60 a year) off your clickstreams.

Someone points out that this is just as bad as the AOL search thing. "It's much worse!" David says -- his excited eyes indicating that he's a happy customer. Someone else observes that "worse" is in the eye of the beholder: for the ISPs it's awesome.

David steps down. Thunderous applause.

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The Open Data morning session ended with a general consensus that consumers would be surprised and outraged by the amount of online data that is being collected, stored, and sold--and that sooner or later some smart journalist will pretend to discover this secret and trigger a consumer firestorm.

Most attendees agreed that consumers are happy to trade privacy for convenience and that, ultimately, if they like the product, they'll say "whatever" about the data collection. Most people also agreed, however, that to get to "whatever," consumers have to know that everything they do is tracked, analyzed, and sold--and that the last time anyone read a User License Agreement was 1972. So the industry has to figure out some way to get the story to consumers before some journalist does. Because the latter will lead to Congressional hearings, new bureaucracy, and higher legal, compliance, and PR bills... and who wants that?