Privacy-respecting marketing and cross-selling

Traditional marketing promotions databases typically have a big central database with identified members (usually via an email address) and a profile, including individual interests. Aggregators may ‘enrich’ that data with other information from other sources, correlating and joining it to build a valuable customer profile they offer to other organisations. Legislation like GDPR controls the worst abuses of this sort of information ‘marketplace’. For co-operatives this legislation places a burden on even well-intentioned co-operative marketing. The data must be kept up to date and only by permission, and disclosure must be strictly controlled. And of course even the best of these data ‘honeypots’ can be hacked, with serious consequences for members and co-ops alike.

Co-op credentials flip the traditional model and put members in control of their information and what they disclose. Because it is verifiable, members referred to a new co-op arrive with trusted credentials, ready to join or buy the products and services they express an interest in.

A co-op only needs to hold the information relevant to the products, services or membership they offer. Members control the information they hold, and can present and prove it when they need to.


Anonymization plus verifiability has multiple business cases

On our community call @equalmatt asked some searching questions about what cross-selling and cross-marketing actually means in practice. Let’s consider a few aspects of what this may actually look like.

Branding and ethical consumerism

Bcorp branding scheme, fairtrade certification, and the Co-op brand itself all have a valence in “ethical consumerism”. There are various issues, pro and con, in this field, which I won’t cover here, however one way of thinking about co-op credentials is as a vehicle for promoting the co-op brand to the ethical consumer.

Get this credential, and you become more than an ethical consumer, you become a member of a global movement, while getting the goods and services you need

There are a number of ways “ethical consumerism” could work beyond just branding, for example

  1. We partner with online marketplaces for goods and services who would recognise co-op creds in the same way they recognise promotional codes if the user is purchasing goods or services from a co-op.

  2. We create a loyalty scheme for the purchase of goods and services from any co-operative, funneled through your co-op credential


Advertising and cross selling for corporations always involves leveraging data. For example

There are many ways in which use of data gives corporations a competitive advantage. Co-operatives often shie away from using data in the same way for various reasons including:

  • lack of scale
  • respect for privacy
  • the de-humanization involved in data analytics

The co-operative version of this would want to retain all the principled reasons co-operatives eschew such practices while seeking to overcome the practical barriers. One way this could work is by combining co-operative credentials with a data trust:

In short, same use corporations make of their data, could be done in a privacy, human-respecting way by a non-profit industry association holding the data on trust for other co-operatives.


Further on the topic of privacy-respecting cross selling and marketing, here are two interesting papers. The first one is really for context. In short: big data marketers are asked to consider the effect of what they do on inequality, privacy, and sustainability. I don’t think they really care. However, perhaps as a co-operative community WE could care about how this is done and design-in the safeguards as part of a marketing / co-operative data commons.

download link

The second paper is a technical analysis of how to get marketing insight from privacy-respecting anonymised data.

  • We describe anonymized and fragmented event-based (AFE) tracking data in retailing.
  • AFE data can enable individual-level marketing analytics that respect data privacy.
  • We propose a flexible and extensible methodology to analyze AFE data.
  • We validate the methodology with sensor-based data from a field experiment.

Does anyone have an academic subscription so that we can see the full paper - or a link to a bit more than the abstract?

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This starts making me think about a token offering. A subsequent cross-coop project? :wink:

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Yes I suppose that is a possibility, but personally I am not a fan of ICOs, utility tokens and other forms of ‘fast money’ for investment that can end badly. (Two co-ops I know very well of were nearly destroyed by that monetary, regulatory and reputational roller-coaster :slight_smile: )

We are very pleased to have the support of the EU’s Next Generation Internet programme and its ‘human-centric’ outlook. There is also new class of institutional investor (Environmental, Social and Governance) that are tolerant of slower growth and less risk than the unicorn-seeking of the Venture Caps.

But let’s get this shaped up right for a network of co-ops in co-operation before we go there :slight_smile:



Google has unveiled a plan B for advertisers after its withdrawal of support for cookies after its FLoC proposal got such a lukewarm reception.

FLoC was ‘Federated Learning of Cohorts’. An awful name for an attempt to beat the trackers with a cookie-substitute that uses AI to aggregate consumers into cohorts or groups of similar ‘behaviour’ or ‘characteristics’. These aggregations would dilute the ‘trackability’ of individuals, yet allow powerful targeted ads on sites that cannot monetise their work with a paywall.

Unsurprisingly FLoC came in for some very bad feedback on the risks of AI bias and the immense power bestowed on the monopolistic aggregator.

Perhaps a similar scheme, in the hands of a data trust, with transparent aggregation and participation only by consent, might have worked for a common, co-operative ecosystem?

However… this has now been replaced by the Topics API proposal

At the root of this is a more transparent advertising ‘taxonomy’ approach which might help consumers understand how they had been classified…

What if co-operatives administered a data trust using a ‘fair economy’ version of such a taxonomy?

In the hands of Google, or Facebook few would trust it: Google Has a New Plan to Kill Cookies. People Are Still Mad | WIRED UK… but maybe more acceptable for a co-op of co-ops.

Meanwhile… if you are a small co-op and you use cookies to understand customer preferences and visits, Google’s plans for cookies in chrome will have an impact.

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To make it more complicated… sorry! …there is an open-source, multi-platform option called

Unified ID2


Thank you. I’m still processing these resources. I’m also looking at the paper The
Limits to Digital Consent: Understanding the risks of ethical consent and data collection
for underrepresented communities by Simply Secure


That is a great paper @colombene - thanks! A welcome reminder that identity is human, and the creation ongoing maintenance and governance of digital tools is only part of a complex human system. Deploying tech without thinking about it brings risk and unintended consequences especially for those who could be disadvantaged, excluded or persecuted.

I feel it is really important to do things step by step and to avoid making things worse than they already are under existing federated identity schemes where users are asked to provide more and more information to multiple platforms in order to verify their identity.

Adding yet another identity scheme won’t help unless people are able to actively reduce what they share elsewhere and be meaningfully in control of their own credentials.

Co-ops must get used to asking for less information from members and customers, not more.

And there has to be an alternative path with a paper-based opt-out for those who distrust or are unable to use or are intimidated by new tech. It’s about meaningful control, and avoiding discrimination or bias.


… seems to involve " a deterministic identifier based on PII (for example, email or phone number) with user transparency and privacy controls."

On the face of it, that seems to me to be yet another unacceptable aggregation with unclear user transparency and privacy controls. The platform holds the big key to unlock all the data.

Maybe with proper ‘self sovereign’ controls and a ‘human’ community system around it it could be useful?..

In the Netherlands and EU, for the sharing of sensitive medical data they use an approach called ‘polymorphic encryption, with pseudonymisation’.

TL,DR… this approach might enable us to safely store our collective data so that:

  1. We can understand our ecosystem transactions and interactions on a pseudonymous basis to gain insights to govern and improve our co-op ecosystem market.
  2. We can individually grant permission for secure storage of ‘receipts’ between buyers and seller in one place or sharing of transactions between co-ops for cross-selling and discounting, for example.

Here’s a fuller deck, with links to a papes on the cryptographic approach that the healthcare community are considering on the ‘big data, but with privacy’ conundrum.

There are several other data hub platform-based offers around, some involving proprietary blockchains, some others taking a more open source ‘foundation’ approach.


More problems with UID2 in relation to GDPR:

…and GDPR is a good thing …not the annoyance that this article from the ad industry suggests.

They need to embrace it and think again.

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