Facebook Makes Money Out Of Your Data – Why Shouldn’t You?

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There are so many free services online because companies can profit from the data you provide. Companies like Facebook sell (or buy) your data to third parties, while ones like Google use your data to target ads directly at you. As the saying goes, if you’re not paying for something, you’re the product, not the customer. But if these companies can make money from your data, why can’t you make money from your own data?

New companies are springing up online, promising to cut you in on the action. Provide your personal data and they’ll sell it to third parties, giving you some of the profit instead of keeping it all to themselves. But how much money can you really make this way? And is this a good idea, or a further violation of your privacy?

How Much Is Your Data Worth, Really?

Companies like Facebook may make significant profit from personal data, but that’s because they have so much. Some data may be sold for pennies or even fractions of pennies, making this hardly worth your time.

Some purchase-intent data can be very valuable. For example, if you’re about to buy a new car in a few months, that data may be particularly valuable to car dealers who may pay big bucks to advertise to you in hopes you’ll buy an expensive car from them. However, much data — what websites you’re visiting, what products you buy, your name, location, and occupation — isn’t worth too much. Worse yet, much of this data is already available online for cheap so you can’t sell it for too much.

The Financial Times offers an online calculator that attempts to tell you how much your data would be worth to a marketer. It’s not as much as you might think. This calculator also demonstrates another problem with providing your own data — you could change your answers to make your data appear to be worth more. Data-selling services that become successful may have to link into your bank account, credit reports, and other personal details to ensure they’re getting a true picture of you and your data, reducing your privacy even further.

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How You Could Sell Your Data

First of all, bear in mind that this aspect of the personal data economy is fairly new. Companies that collect your personal data and sell it — like Facebook — are established and are big businesses. However, companies that allow you to provide your own data and sell it for you are new and testing the waters.

In theory, you’d sign up for a website and provide your personal data to it. You’d then see offers for your personal data, the company may try to sell it for you, or the site itself may function as a repository for your data that you can grant other companies access to.

You’d then be provided with payment for your data — after the site takes its own cut, of course. This is similar to what happens on Facebook, only you’d receive a bit of money instead of a free service. You’d also have to take more ownership of your data, going out of your way to provide it.

The Problems

There are a variety of problems with this idea. People who want to sell their data will have to sign up for accounts and provide their personal data to such sites, which takes time and energy. The genius of sites like Facebook is that they get you to provide your data in a way that seems fun — you don’t feel like you’re filling out dry forms. You’re sharing information with your friends!

Setting a price is also a concern. How do you know what’s a fair offer or how much your data is actually worth on the marketplace? How do you deal with the reality that many data transactions are likely to be worth only a few cents or fractions of a cent, and how do you encourage users to keep providing data even when it seems it may not be worth their time? The effort required to collect all data in one place and maintain it will likely be too much for the small profit you can make from selling your data.

economics of personal data

Data-Selling Sites That Exist Today

This idea is more interesting in theory than in the present. While some sites of this nature already exist, they haven’t caught on. Here are some services that actually exist today. Note that we haven’t tested them and don’t necessarily recommend any of them. They’re just examples of this idea in practice:

  • Money For My Data: This site promises that you can “Claim Your Value,” establishing legal rights to own your data and hiring an agent to market it for you. It sounds okay until you read the FAQ page, which says you’ll need to fill out a survey every few months to provide your own data. In this way, this service is similar to many paid survey sites that have existed online forever — they’ll pay you tiny amounts of money to fill out surveys online and provide data. Even if you didn’t have to fill out surveys, you’d have to fill out similar forms on other services to provide data — so these services have much in common with paid survey sites, likely including the very small payouts.
  • Personal: According to stories from about a year ago, Personal planned to add a marketplace where users can sell their data within the year. The service itself functions as a repository for a user’s data that users have to pay $30 per year to maintain. No marketplace is yet open, so this service can’t be used to sell your data — you can only pay them to store it for you.
  • Reputation.com: According to Mashable, Reputation.com plans on adding a service where you can provide your personal data to companies “in return for discounts or other perks.” For example, you could provide airlines access to your income in exchange for loyalty points. This is actually not too different from the current system — you’re being paid in discounts and loyalty points, not cash.
  • Yes Profile: This service allows you to build up a personal profile with your interests and preferences. You can then make money by “renting” your profile to brands, although it’s unclear if any brands are actually using the service.  Yes Profile says that “revenues for each user could reach 100 euros a month,” although there’s no indication of what current users are actually making, if anything.

So What Now?

So, should you sign up for one of these services and start trying to sell your data? Probably not. It’s a lot of effort and there’s no real indication that you’d make anything more than a few cents for a significant investment of time. It’s unclear if such services would ever catch on, and they likely won’t in their current form — people don’t want to manage their own data profiles for a few cents an hour.

Nevertheless, such services could become more popular in the future. Imagine if a future technology like Google Glass collected very in-depth statistics about your day — all automatically — and transparently offered to sell it for you. Such services would capture data advertisers don’t necessarily have access to and would do it all automatically. It’s a more compelling proposition than sitting at your computer and filling out forms to provide information that advertisers probably already know about you.

What do you think of this aspect of the personal data economy? Will we be selling our own data in the future, or is that a silly concept? Leave a comment and chime in!

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