Money

flybuys Toolbar Sells Out Your Search Data For A Lousy 50 Cents A Month

We’re not big fans of Coles’ flybuys loyalty scheme — earning points takes ages and you give up lots of personal information in the process. The recently introduced flybuys Toolbar takes this to a new level of intrusiveness, promising you can earn points “just for surfing the web”. Perhaps — but you’ll give up even more information while doing so, and get a maximum of 50 cents a month for the dubious privilege of using an inferior search service.

The flybuys Toolbar is offered as a partnership with Yahoo!7, and installs as an extension to Chrome, Firefox or Internet Explorer. (No Safari version right now, but the site says it is “coming soon”).

flybuys heavily promotes the fact that you can earn 1 point for every 2 searches you make using the toolbar. Searches through the toolbar will use Yahoo!’s Australian search page. That’s adequate for really basic research, but for anything detailed, the truth is that Google is a much better choice.

The number of points you can earn in a given calendar month is capped at 100. So in theory, you could use the toolbar for simple searches and revert to Google when it was less helpful. But is that amount of effort worth it?

The value of flybuys points varies depending on how you redeem them, but a useful basic measure is the gift cards which are offered. 2000 points gets you a $10 gift card. That makes 100 points worth 50 cents. I wouldn’t change to a lesser search engine for 50 cents a month.

There’s also a bigger consideration: what happens to all your search data? The FAQ for the toolbar sounds reassuring on this point: “Individual search data is not passed on to flybuys. Search data is not stored by flybuys and your personal details will not be passed on to any third parties.” But that’s a frankly sneaky way of putting it. Your data is collected by flybuys’ technology partner FreeCause, and it is used in aggregate.

That’s made perfectly clear on the FreeCause toolbar privacy policy, though you’ll have to go to some effort to find it (it’s only mentioned in the fine print of the extension installer, and the page address is quoted incorrectly):

By using the Software and related services, you agree that FreeCause may collect and use certain information and data relating to your use . . .All such data is owned exclusively by FREECAUSE.

The policy also explicitly mentions that aggregated data will be sold to third-party marketers

When you submit a query to FreeCause, the FreeCause Toolbar sends some basic information to FreeCause, including your IP address, your search request, and some cookie data. We also have the ability to store and analyze the queries that you submit. The information sent to FreeCause by the FreeCause Toolbar or Plug-In may be logged by FreeCause. We may aggregate such data and share it with third parties for marketing and research purposes.

Aggregated information won’t identify you individually unless you live in a very remote postcode, but it will cover a lot of details, including your postcode, service provider and browser choice. That kind of data is collected by most sites, but very few of them supply it in aggregate back to an organisation like flybuys, which also knows a lot about your shopping habits. All told, it’s an awful lot of information to surrender for a maximum potential reward of 50 cents a month. I’d stay away.

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