Zero-party data gathering is a new strategy that websites are using to collect information about their users. In this post, we’ll offer a clear zero-party data definition, explain how companies collect zero-party data, and offer some tips on how to protect yourself from online tracking.
Zero-party data is information that customers and internet users voluntarily share with companies and website providers. Contrast this with the other ways consumer/user data is gathered.
With this context, it’s easier to understand what makes zero-party data different. It’s information that you choose to give to a company, allowing it to provide more personalized experiences with marketing and ads.
Zero-party data is any customer data given voluntarily by the user. This information could include (but is not limited to):
These are just a few examples of information that could be extracted with a zero-party data strategy. Any information you actively provide to a website or company technically falls into this category.
PRO TIP: If you don't want to provide zero-party data, but have to fill in certain fields to access a page, you can input false information. Unless stated otherwise in user agreements, you are under no obligation to give companies accurate data.
Collecting zero-party data gives companies useful information about their customers, which can help them improve services, tune content delivery algorithms, and run more personalized ads. Advocates for zero-party data strategies usually argue that asking users for information directly improves the relationship between customers and companies because people are choosing to give their data freely.
Before we examine the pros and cons of zero-party data collection, we should explain how it is gathered in the first place. Here are three common methods for gathering zero-party data:
Why is zero-party data important? Because in theory, it’s more reliable than other data-gathering strategies. Instead of collecting data points about on-page behaviors, which could be misinterpreted, you’re asking the customer directly for their feedback.
It’s easy to get confused between zero-party data and first-party data. To understand the difference, we can look at how the data is gathered.
Let’s imagine that a social media provider wants to collect both types of data in order to more effectively target them with ads. To get the zero-party data, the provider creates a small single-question survey that pops up in the user’s newsfeed, asking the user which hotel brand they have a positive opinion about. If the user answers the survey, the zero-party data is logged in the company’s database.
Then the provider uses monitoring systems built into the app to track the user’s activity. It notices that the user is viewing content related to a specific holiday destination — guides and videos about Greece, for example — and this behavior pattern is also recorded. However, unlike the survey, the user never actively chose to tell the app provider that they were considering a holiday in Greece. This is first-party data.
As this example illustrates, these two kinds of data are not mutually exclusive. Companies can use both to get a better understanding of their customers.
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A lot of the online discussion around zero-party data gathering — especially within the marketing space — focuses on the idea that it is more empowering for customers. Advocates say that zero-party data offers consumers autonomy and even builds customer loyalty. If a customer intentionally shares their data with a company, this allows for a more personalized experience without the company using invasive data gathering practices.
However, it’s important to remember that in the final analysis, this strategy is less about the customer experience and more about collecting monetizable data. The information you give a company through a survey or a short quiz will be stored in a database somewhere and used ultimately to generate revenue for that company.
It’s also worth underlining the fact that most companies won’t rely solely on a zero-party data strategy. They might augment their data-gathering practices with surveys and pop-up questions, but first-party data collection will still happen behind the scenes. When you answer a question before a YouTube video, you’re just providing additional data on top of all the information it is already collecting about you.
If you’d like to limit how much companies and service providers are able to track you online, try taking the following steps:
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