Wisconsin Woman Auctions Personal Info Online

SAN FRANCISCO (06/15/2000) - Tracy Coyle has heard about the value that Web marketers place on personal information, and she's decided to cash in. Thanks to online ad firm DoubleClick's purchase last year of the offline database firm Abacus, a number of Web surfers now realize that as they surf, they leave behind a wealth of information.

Some surfers have responded by providing fake data. Some have signed up for loyalty programs, which pay members a small fee to look at targeted ads. Coyle is taking a different approach. She announced Tuesday that she will auction off about herself to the highest bidder. In it are the answers to 378 questions important to marketers, such as "What's your zip code?" "What's your household income?" and "What's your favorite allergy medicine?"

"I know [my information] has value, but I don't know what the value is," Coyle says. "To individual companies, maybe not so much, but to marketing companies with a lot of clients, maybe more." She said that if there's demand in this area, she would make my questionnaire available to the public and act as a broker so that others can sell their data to third parties. Coyle won't know how lucrative her data might be until the bidding closes on June 23.

But she says she's happy to exhibit herself for the right price. Her questionnaire will reveal details about herself that many people would consider sensitive. The winner gets to know about Coyle's religious affiliations, political beliefs, financial status and health. The winner will also be free to send targeted e-mail to Coyle. The minimum bid is $20, so if she sells all 250 copies, she'll earn at least $5,000. And Coyle hopes that other people will want to store their information with her. She says she'll share the money that comes in. Companies that pay for consumer information tend not to buy it on an individual basis. Instead, they buy lists containing thousands of names. But Coyle could be onto something, according to John Keck, a VP at the marketing firm Foote Cone & Belding.

"Tracy is definitely in touch with where marketing is headed - her questionnaire has classic direct-marketing written all over it," says Keck.

"However, sight unseen, this data is worth, at most, 10 cents to a buck. If she would let us look at the entire profile and then decide if she'd be likely to convert to a customer [for one of our clients], then we might pay between $20 and $100." "This could be a viable business - especially if it can coordinate message delivery. But the devil's in the details," says Larry Chiang, CEO of MoneyForMail. "Buying information on an individual basis? I don't know - that's too big of a pain in the butt."

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