June 16, 2013
Thoughts About the Value of My Personal Data
Financial Times has a calculator for the value of your personal data. The numbers they use to calculate this are old, but even if the numbers were new and fresh, this is the wrong discussion.
I don't care that my data isn't worth that much on the open market or that in many ways, because my data leaks everywhere constantly and therefore many can aggregate and sell it, the market is commoditized and my data is in this market, worth very little.
My data is worth a lot to me, and it's worth protecting to me (as in, I'm willing to go to a lot more trouble over just my slice of data, than any of these companies are to protect *my* data).
In this way, the tragedy of the commons (the personal data aggregation commons) may be turned around from the old version, where individuals didn't do anything about the commons but those with monetary or other big interest cared about protecting something did take action (think , but my single interest in copyright law might not be worth my spending a lot of time on the other side, fighting their lobbying efforts, because to the average person, big copyright isn't that big a deal.. hence, the tragedy of the copyright commons). The shift in the personal data commons that we have now, where companies just hoover up everything in order to sell your commoditized data reflects a situation where the individual is highly motivated to protect their little mini-garden slice of their own data, to control the inputs and outputs, if the proper tools are in place to help us do it.
I think the FT calculator reflects the tragedy of the personal data commons model where Big Personal Data Aggregators attempt to sell our data in a commodity market, typically for a few cents, to less than a buck (I came in at $ .9792 or just under a dollar -- but over what period.. I don't know. Is this for each request for my data? That could be a lot of dollars over a year, I suppose).
If I stop some of my data going to the big aggregators, I can't imagine they would notice or really care, if one person has some data missing from their profile, within the gigantic aggregation system. But my little garden, well tended and organized, becomes much more valuable to me than $1 a hit. Now if someone wants the well tended accurate stuff, fully fleshed out, they will have to "pay" a lot, or a little for a small slice. That payment may come in the form of a trade, a discount, or a better deal, if I'm buying, or the ability to, say, read the whole New York Times site unencumbered if I share my data with them. Or it may be that I just don't share.. pay cash for what I use online, and then I'm much less a part of the commons, as my data isn't shared out in the marketplace.
But now you see, I've created choice for myself, control, autonomy, and transparency over my transactions.
I think folks at the VRM list, and in a few other places looking at this problem. know that it's my little garden that is well tended that will be far more valuable over time, against the old style, hoovered commodity world. But for now, all the FT can see is the old model. Rear view mirror. And that's fine. Just more motivation to bring the tools online for me to collect and organize my own info, and stop the leaks of our data, from getting to the big hoovering agents.
Also.. T.Rob has a great post that also reacts to the FT article -- he too rejects the premise of the argument FT makes: "The personal data to which the FT article refers is like crude oil. The personal data which we should be worried about is like premium unleaded gas. Either way, it's about you, directly impacts you and has market value to everyone but you. Don't let anyone tell you it has no value. Even the Financial Times."