The Big Business of Your Personal Data

| March 16, 2014

selling_your_personal_dataPrivate companies are making the sale and purchase of your personal data a new, very big, and fast growing business that challenges traditional notions of privacy. The data once collected is “mined” and used to drive consumer sales by enabling companies to get ever faster readings on consumer trends; and by learning more about you so as to target advertising specifically to your preferences.

If Facebook were a country, its 900 million members would make it the third largest in the world – and with a more extensive and imitate record of the private lives of its citizens than any regime in history. People have recorded their life experiences to the extent that “Facebook has collected the most extensive data set ever assembled on human social behavior. Some of your personal information is probably a part of it.” What Facebook Knows (MIT Technology Journal). When we click the “like” button, we are registering approval of a product, brand, music, service, or idea. Also, Facebook can now connect what you do on its site with your purchases at more than 1,000 retailers, according to a report syndicated by CNN from the Financial Times. The value of such data has not been lost on advertisers and retailers; and Facebook has established a new revenue source by allowing companies to target ads in mobile apps or on mobile websites using what is known about Facebook users, according to a 2012 article in Techcrunch.

But Facebook is only the most obvious example of the data we voluntarily make available to private enterprise. AT&T sees the value in the telephone numbers that you call or receive calls from. Google knows the websites that you visit. Your Visa, Mastercard, and American Express records tell the story of your purchases for both business and personal reasons. All of this data is highly prized by advertisers and retailers, who want to tailor and personalize their message.

The World Economic Forum has said that personal data is becoming a new economic “asset class” – “a new type of raw material that is on par with capital and labor.” With the amount of data increasing (and expected by 2020 to increase by more than 40 times what it is today) the mining of personal data “will touch all aspects of society”.

Now, a startup called Datacoup has offered to simply pay consumers for their data. Datacoup, which calls itself “The First Personal Data Marketplace,” has opened a site where people can sign up to receive $8/month as payment for access to a combination of their social media accounts and the feed of transactions from a credit or debit card. Datacoup plans to make money by charging companies for access to trends found in that information, after it has been removed of personally identifying details. Their site includes assurances that your data will remain anonymous, and that your personal identity will not be compromised.

Other companies are vying in the same market. says it’s ready to unveil a place where people can offer personal information to marketers in return for discounts and other perks. In June, 2013, The Financial Times launched a personal data calculator, where you enter general information about yourself, and get an estimate of what your data is worth on the general market. Based on personal experiment with their survey, the value can fluctuate greatly based on your marriage status, your buying habits, the number of young children in your home, your medical condition, and a lot of other things that advertisers and sellers want to know.

All of this is changing the way we think about privacy – it used to be considered a right; now it has become a choice. Everything that you do in the public sector and the marketplace is (and always has been) a trade off: the cost of participation in society is a loss of privacy. Each one of us makes and regulates that choice as we see fit. We want our favorite providers to know our preferences: for our favorite restaurant to know our food choices, for our barber or stylist to know how we like our hair done, for the handyman we hire to become familiar with maintenance needs at our home.

Now, the digital revolution has created the technology to record, store, and analyze all of your choices – creating a new wave of sophistication for the marketplace to understand and to reach you.

Is this a good thing? It really does not matter – it is here. The marketplace will always pursue the consumer; and there is no earthly force in our society stronger than the marketplace, bending every new opportunity towards profit – ironically taking the intent of Facebook fans to express themselves as individuals and creating from it ever more powerful demographics.

Category: Technology