In late April, Insecure creator Issa Rae tweeted an ad for something kind of surprising for a young Hollywood star: a new data-monetization app. Rae’s tweet got a lot of people asking questions about what data is, who owns it and why a company would want to collect it and pay consumers for it.
Angela Benton is the founder and CEO of Streamlytics, the company that launched the Clture app in April. Benton’s tech bona fides go back over a decade, including running NewME, the first global accelerator for minority-owned tech businesses in Silicon Valley that raised over $47 million in funding for entrepreneurs before it was acquired in 2018.
When Soledad O’Brien’s CNN docuseries Black in America featured Benton and her accelerator, the exposure sent ripples through the tech industry. It helped usher in a diversity and inclusion movement that’s still transforming Silicon Valley today. For someone who started out as a graphic designer working for print—and eventually, web—publications, Benton has uniquely and consistently pushed the boundaries of the tech world to open wider, to operate more fairly and to innovate into untapped markets.
Benton spoke with Adweek about Clture and about why black consumers, in particular, should gain control over the data footprint they leave online.
Adweek: What is Clture all about?
Angela Benton: The mission behind Clture is really to democratize data access for consumers. We decided to focus on the African American audience first because a lot of money is being made off of African American culture and African American individuals.
Especially when you start to take a look at things like, for example, Bird Box on Netflix—that was released very quietly, but then it went viral through the memes and other content on black Twitter and Instagram. The community has a very powerful voice in terms of social media, and what Clture is aiming to do is expand that above and beyond social media and really look at that individual’s own data footprint. Our latest report that we did was around Covid-19 streaming usage in the African American community. From our results, streaming was up 69% across all platforms.
Part of what makes Streamlytics unique is that we are collecting data ethically, and we’re compensating people for it. So that’s the first thing. But the second thing is we’re really the only source that is collecting data across all of these different platforms: Netflix, Spotify, Amazon, Hulu and Google, which also includes YouTube. It’s very important that we help the consumer understand the value of their data. It’s what you’re doing everywhere—your phone, what you’re watching, what you’re streaming, what you’re buying, what you’re listening to, and so on. It’s everything. Regular people are still trying to grasp the idea around “what is data?” So we’re focusing on forms of data that are the least intrusive to begin [with], which is, your streaming data and other activity associated with it.
How did Issa Rae become a Clture launch partner?
Issa is actually an investor. She has a minority stake in Streamlytics. Our relationship goes back probably over a decade. When she was doing Awkward Black Girl on YouTube, I had my first business called Black Web 2.0. We were kind of like a TechCrunch, but about what African Americans were doing in the technology industry. Around that time—about 2007—there just weren’t a lot of black people creating things online. There was probably a handful of us—and Issa was within that group—and we all kind of knew each other.
Do you feel like there are any issues of trust in the community when it comes to online data being tracked? And is that something that you’re tapping into here in any way?
People know that they’re being tracked, for sure. But the sentiment is, “Well, what can I do about it?” It’s like your hands are tied. So that’s the general sentiment. And so the problem that we’re solving is: They’re tracking your data anyway, let us help you monetize it. We are empowering the consumer to say, “If I upload my data to a Streamlytics platform like Clture, I have a legal document that says I own my data, and I can get paid for it.”
So if I’m a black consumer, tell me—what’s in it for me? How much money can I actually make off my data in, say, a month or a year?
Part of the issue with the data brokerage market is there’s no transparency. There’s also no standard for how data is sold. Other services are doing this, but those tend to pay out $1.50, $2 a week.We actually created an algorithm to value data at the data point level. The algorithm looks at factors like public company stock performance and market capitalization, and we come up with a proposed value. When you upload your data, we scan your file and multiply by the data point valuation that we’re getting from our algorithm. So that’s how we determine how much a person can make. Obviously, it’s gonna fluctuate. But because we’re able to use the algorithm that we developed, we do have some control over how much people are being paid out. We’re seeing payouts so far like $35 a week, $50 a week. We even have folks that have much higher balances in their account, and that’s just from the launch a week ago.
Who is Streamlytics selling the data to, and why do they want it so bad?
There’s a broad range of interested people. There are marketers. There are big brands. We have hedge funds. It’s not just streaming services that want access to this data. When you look at the streaming market, there’s no competitive intelligence on what people are actually streaming. Netflix says this is what people are watching on our platform. Disney says this is what people are watching on our platform. But there’s really no third party that says, actually, this is what we’re seeing across all platforms. For the company that we’re onboarding, they’re actually relaunching their streaming platform. And they are using this as competitive intelligence to kind of refine super users that are on their existing platform. They want to refine that, find more of those people and also understand who those people are more.
What other consumer-facing products does Streamlytics offer?
In addition to Clture, we have GetMyData.io that basically makes it easy for people to get access to their data. So when people want to use services like Clture, Get My Data is basically an easy way for them to designate us as a proxy to get their data for them if they don’t want to spend three days going to all the platforms to collect their data. And we are in the process of cloning the Clture user experience to other markets—the Latino market and the general market. Those are going to be their own brands.
Does that mean you’re hiring right now? Even with the pandemic crash?
We are, actually. I just onboarded three people this week.