London based People.io has taken its first steps outside the UK, expanding its data sharing rewards platform into Germany — where it’s launched a co-branded version of the app with carrier o2 (called o2 Get), targeting the latter’s ~24 million customers.
The People.io app is also available to download via the App Store and Google Play, and o2 parent company Telefónica Germany will also be pushing the apps across its full market footprint of 44M customers. The telco link follows People.ioIn going through the telco’s Wayra Germany accelerator last year. They say they’re the first Wayra-backed startup to launch a co-branded product with Telefónica.
“By co-branding with o2 we benefit from a respected and well known consumer brand which… gives us a fast track to scale; meaning we can focus on creating a great product experience that delivers on our vision to give people ownership of their data,” says co-founder Nicholas Oliver.
“Our decision to launch in Germany was driven by their strong, consumer-centric data privacy laws. This meant we were focussed on building a product that could meet even the most stringent data privacy laws with a view to further market expansion.”
Oliver says the team is expecting to get around 250,000 downloads in the next 6 months in Germany; increasing to just under 1 million by the end of the first year.
The startup is apparently working with around a dozen telcos across 35 markets at this point — although it remains to be seen how many of those conversations will turn into fully fledged co-branded app efforts.
In o2 Germany’s case, People.io’s philosophy around user data ownership clearly meshes with a Telefónica strategic push to give data back to users aimed at fostering customer loyalty.
We first covered People.io back in January 2016, when it had just launched a beta version in Shoreditch, giving locals the chance to share personal data in exchange for building up credits to redeem against digital services like streaming music. It’s since scaled out to be UK wide.
The core idea is to flip the notion that Internet users have to ‘pay’ to use ‘free’ products by having their personal data covertly and persistently harvested by these services. Instead, the platform aims to give people an incentive to share data willingly with it, for targeted ad purposes, rewarding them for sharing data with credits to redeem against different services (and by not sharing their data directly with others).
The People.io app is broadly aimed at 18 to 25 year olds for now, offering a familiar Tinder-style swipe interface for them to respond to questions about their likes and dislikes to start inputting personal data into the platform. They can also choose to connect other data sources, such as their email account, in order to share more info — with increased rewards for sharing more.
Advertisers are able to target marketing messages at People.io users via the platform, but the startup says users’ data is never shared directly with third parties. And the further pledge is that users can delete their account at any point — which immediately and permanently erases all their data.
Oliver describes the platform as “a firewall for people”, and reckons Europe’s incoming General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will have a serious impact on how the ad tech industry operates regionally, because it gives consumers greater control over how their data is used. The GDPR is due to come into force in May 2018, and includes tough penalties for compliance failures, changing the risks associated with collecting and processing EU citizens’ personal data.
While People.io’s initial product pays data sharers for viewing targeted ads — typically redeemed against gift cards for Amazon, Starbucks and iTunes, according to Oliver, with an option to donate credits earned as cash to charity currently also in testing — its wider vision is around expanding into paid services of its own; utilizing users’ data to offer them the ability to pay to enhance other digital services they use, without having to lose control of their information.
“This might apply to health and fitness, connected home or even productivity apps and experiences,” he explains. “Our advertising feature(s) are really just phase one of a far bigger product vision. It provides us with a familiar consumer experience that allows us to develop the initial relationship with the user. From here, we can then educate them on the value associated to their data and demonstrate why taking ownership of it can benefit them; both financially and through enhanced digital experiences.
“A brief example could be with a Spotify playlist. Having a playlist that dynamically changes your upcoming tracks based on your current context (at work, at home, going running, trying to relax) or mood (stressed, energetic, feel like partying). With People.io — we’d just tell Spotify ‘Nic’s at work’ or ‘Nic is about to go running’ — without sharing any of the data behind that insight. So that means Spotify can do what it does best, without ever needing access to your digital life.”
“When you consider the future of Conversational interfaces, like Amazon Echo, or chat bots; this type of functionality will become increasingly relevant,” he adds.
At this still early stage, People.io has around 35,000 accounts activated since exiting beta in the UK, with around two-thirds of those characterized as ‘monthly actives’.
On average, Oliver says users engage with the app between two to three times a week. While the platform gets around half a million user interactions per month at this point.
He says the startup is currently raising investment to support “continued momentum and growth into other key markets”. Investors to date include Nick Robertson, founder of ASOS; Thomas Höegh, founder of Lovefilm; and Founders’ Factory, the accelerator founded by Brent Hoberman and backed by Guardian Media Group.
European markets are a priority, thanks to the pro-privacy regulatory environment, but Oliver says the team is hoping to expand into the first non-EU market by the end of the year. “The US is certainly a market that we’re keeping an eye on,” he adds.