See, the balancing act isn’t all that difficult. In fact, it only requires two things:

  1. Respect my information, not because you have to, but because you should. Don’t pawn user data to whoever will pay the most or allegedly give you the most additional data in exchange. Know that you and I have a contract to use this information, and I don’t expect you to strip my name out of it, bundle it with the data about other people, and sell it. That wasn’t part of the deal.
  2. Use my information to improve my experience. Forget about the mythical marketing notion of “1:1 marketing at scale at the right place, right time, and the right emotional state.” It’s acceptable to speak with consumers as segments or groups who share common characteristics. This alleviates the strain on your organization, prevents the purchase of yet another analytics tool, keeps the ad networks out, and let’s you take a step back to truly understand what people want. Build your strategy around that.

At the end of the day, data collection is fine as long as the information is used productively. There is a delicate balance between collecting as much information as possible to sell and using that information to meaningfully improve a person’s experience. Don’t be creepy and sell data. Your users may have signed a broad terms of service, but they certainly did not expect their information to just be sold. If you are going to monetize it, offer something back to the user, and for the sake of everyone, don’t just say “experience” and then fail to deliver. Too many companies are already playing that game, and believe it when I write it, it backfires.