Permission.io is a platform that pays users in ASK tokens for engaging with, or even looking at, ads. Built on a fork of the Ethereum blockchain, the Permission platform incentivizes users to grant advertisers and other merchant participants access to their time and data in a peer-to-peer way. 

Over the past 12 months, the startup has raised $5 million through a token pre-sale, and recently closed another round of funding that put the company at $47 million raised through equity financing. And since the platform came out of beta a few weeks ago, it has over 450,000 users, according to the company. 

“Our model is all about advertisers being able to pay individuals directly through crypto, where advertisers’ return on their investment will go up dramatically,” said Permission CEO Charlie Silver. “Everybody’s happy and everybody wins. The user is now being compensated for what typically, today, companies like Google and Facebook are being compensated for.”

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Data ownership: How users give Permission

The idea of shifting the benefits of ads back toward users and advertisers rather than middle men isn’t necessarily new. The Brave browser, for example, has let its users choose whether or not to turn on their rewards token system in exchange for viewing ads since its official launch in 2019. 

Silver, while complimenting Brave’s leadership in the area, is quick to point out how Permission is different. He said Brave is purely a browser that collects no data, contending the ads people are served are random.

Permission, on the other hand, allows people to be served ads through their “behavioral data.” Behavioral data means ads are served based on activities such as brand interactions and content consumption. 

“By the end of the year, users will have access to a feature called ‘MyData,’ which will allow them to input specific data points around preferences that will create even more precise ad targeting, and also restrict the ability of brands to reach users that aren’t interested in their products,” said Silver. 

Silver said this tool will allow users to directly revoke or manage their data, with Permission acting as an agent for this data rather than a middle man.

All data generated through Permission, regardless of source, is anonymized on the advertiser end, according to SIlver. While Permission will know which data is tied to a person (for the purpose of awarding ASK Coins) advertisers won’t be able to link it to an individual. 

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The startup has integrated with the payments provider CoinPayments, which is accepted by over 3,000 merchants and retailers, to enable people to use various cryptocurrencies like ASK for online purchases. 

When you sign up for Permission, you earn some ASK for doing so. You’re then free to go throughout the platform and “shop and discover product videos that would be of interest to you,” according to Silver. 

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Example of the Permission platform interface
(Permission.io)

Tailored advertising: How merchants get Permission

There are two ways that merchants can connect with customers through Permission. First, Permission hosts its own Shopify store where it lists all the participating merchants in its program. 

Second, Permission enables merchants to install its plugin on their own Shopify store sites.

“We’ve built plugins for Shopify and Magento, so e-commerce merchants can simply install a plugin, which will allow them to offer ASK on their site and reward their customers,” said Silver. “So on Permission we’re working to show the efficacy of this kind of permission-based ad delivery.”

For example, a shoe store on Shopify could plug into Permission and display its ads in the Permission marketplace, reward people with ASK for viewing tailored advertising, and then let people purchase their goods in the Permission.io marketplace, using ASK. 

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An example of Permission’s marketplace categories. Ads are displayed once a user clicks through.
(Screenshot by CoinDesk)

To test this, I logged onto Permission.io (I earned 100 ASK for doing so), and was taken to the marketplace dashboard, where a number of ads were displayed to me. One was for a pair of steel-toed sneakers, and I clicked on it.

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Example of Permission.io marketplace ad and purchasing screen
(Screenshot by CoinDesk)

After watching a 30-second video of someone jumping around in the sneakers and having their steel toe-protected foot rolled over by a car, I earned 100 ASK.

At this point I only had 200 ASK in my wallet, but if I were to complete enough tasks and earn enough ASK, I could spend it on these sneakers, foregoing U.S. dollars. 

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“While we will promote those stores on our platform, ultimately we’re looking to help eCommerce merchants drive traffic and conversion to their own stores,” said Permission CTO Hunter Jensen. “By installing our plugin, users will interact with the merchant’s store but will be able to earn ASK along the buying journey.”

Silver said he thinks the Permission model is a key part of data ownership and sovereignty, based around the user, rather than companies like Google and Facebook. 

“Our goal is to really build what we call the permission economy, where millions of websites are offering their users ASK to engage with them on various levels,” said Silver.

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