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Is Your Online Attention Worth Money? Root Markets Thinks So.

The Web startup wants to give users control of their own data, and provide them with a way for getting reimbursed for their attention.
Attention data helps marketers understand where Web users are going online. A startup called Root Markets wants to give users control of their own data.

Root Markets was founded last year by Seth Goldstein, a serial entrepreneur who in 1995 founded SiteSpecific, one of the first Internet advertising companies, and investment research firm Majestic Research. The company's Root Vaults is a site that provides online management of attention data, which is gathered through a Firefox browser plug-in available from AttentionTrust.org. Goldstein likens it to Web server analytics software for users. "Up until Web services and Web 2.0, you haven't really had the infrastructure to make attention explicit and to share it in a more transparent way," Goldstein says.

The plug-in tracks what a user does online and stores that information in a personal vault. It records Web page URLs, titles, HTTP response codes, whether any cookies were read or written, plus date and time stamps. That's sensitive stuff, but Root Markets has a tight security policy that, among other things, says it will share your personal information with others only if you request it. "With CRM, marketers have historically collected and bought information about buyers and kept it as their own property," Goldstein writes in his company's blog. "With Root, individuals own the data about themselves. And the individual can optionally share, barter, lend, or sell the information to a marketer in order to get a better deal, a customized product, or a better rate."

Someday, maybe. The number of users tracking their attention with Root Vaults is only in the thousands. That will change if and when there's more incentive to participate. That could come with Root Exchange, a financial exchange for buying and selling mortgage leads that are created when people fill out online mortgage applications, Goldstein says. He hopes to have people submitting mortgage apps through the exchange, eliminating the broker as an intermediary. An applicant could anonymously include pertinent bits of data, such as a credit score or an online spending history (he's assuming, it seems, that lenders would be interested in such attention data and have a way to figure it into a lending decision). Root Exchange would then match the applicant with lenders and their offers through an infrastructure that puts the customer in control. Goldstein says the exchange will expand to include trading auto sales, insurance, credit card, and wireless service leads.

Illustration by Viktor Koen

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