Marc Howard

@marcbegins

How I Sold Myself For $0.29

How much is your personal data worth? For the average American about $0.20 to $0.40. Here is how much your data is worth in these scenarios:

  • “Married” or “Engaged to be Married”: Add 30% more.
  • “Recently Divorced”: Add another 10–20%.
  • “Expecting a Baby”: Another 30%.
  • “Own a Home”: Another 30%.

Hopefully you’re healthy but if not this is a goldmine for advertisers. If you have common lifestyle conditions like diabetes, back pain, headaches, or high cholesterol your personal data worth rockets up to $0.46! Don’t worry Facebook doesn’t ask you if you have these conditions instead it can be figured out from the cookies that your browser leaves on websites for booking appointments, purchasing medications or searching for information on these unfortunate conditions.

Read on…it gets even creepier.

So what does this all add up to? After analyzing data on Statistica, Facebook has 2.2 billion users as of Q2 2018:

Obviously there is a vast range in the price of personal data between countries, demographic and socio-economic profiles. To be fair let’s use the top ten countries by Facebook user count which comes to approximately 1 billion users during that same period in 2018:

Accounting for just Americans this means Facebook generates about $42–84 million for personal data ($210m x $.20 to .40). Multiply this by the thousands of advertisers and data brokers then you can begin to understand the billions in Facebook annual revenue — all from the data that you have provided for free.

The Financial Times created a very interesting yet creepy tool where you answer a few simple questions about your lifestyle, health and behavior and it will tell you approximately how much your personal data is worth for the multi-billion dollar data broker industry:

Personal Data Worth Calculator (Source: The Financial Times)

Can You Personally Profit From Your Personal Data?

Chances are if you’re reading this your personal data is hosted on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter. Maybe all three. What if you could profit from this data? It is your personal data which you own after all. Unfortunately unless you’re a data broker you’d only make a few bucks at best.

The value is in the aggregation of this data which is why just nine data brokers alone earned more than $400 million dollars in annual revenue. Keep in mind these are just the middlemen. These are the players that collect and redistribute your aggregated data to and from Facebook, Amazon, Google, LinkedIn and Twitter.

So unless you’re into data aggregation or get a few thousand friends together chances are you’re never going to make anywhere near what your data is really worth. Downloading your data is a good start though and just the beginning of a more decentralized world. Knowledge is power and understanding what data you’ve given up and how its being used empowers you to make better privacy decisions.

Why Can’t We Just Switch to A Decentralized Network Where We Fully Control and Profit From Our Personal Data?

The truth is because its a pain and not easy to do. This is because all of your friends and colleagues are there. Centralized networks create network effects and growth around this fact. You get to connect with your friends for “free” on these centralized platforms — all for the low low price of your personal data. Its no secret that your personal data is the primary revenue model for the modern centralized social platform.

People will switch from Facebook or Twitter to a better solution if they are incentivized to do so. While regulation attempts to curtail the abuse in the usage of personal data it only stifles rather than creates innovation. There are solutions that are changing the game via solutions like Personal Data Stores (PDS) however people aren’t exactly flocking in droves from centralized organizations like Facebook and LinkedIn. PDSs today need to be more than just a concept in theory. The key is to figure out people’s motivations for switching to this alternative then providing the right incentive.

So the real barrier from switching from a centralized to decentralized network is the lack of social graph portability. What would incentive you to switch from Facebook? People respond to incentives like faster, cheaper, safer, and more private. The reason that alternative decentralized solutions like a PDS have not blossomed is because they have yet to figure out a solid plan for network effects which Facebook has done quite successfully. To most its just not worth the “effort”. If an alternative solution figures out how to make the PDS transition seamless with the proper incentive structure for you to invite friends then the network effects will take care of itself.

How Can We Build a Decentralized Social Network That We Fully Control?

Decentralization can seem daunting at times. Don’t get me wrong, I am 100% on-board with the cause to decentralize. Its my modus operandi. We just need a “user-friendly” way to go about it. Although possible its quite tedious to export all of your personal data from centralized services like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter (see below for a step-by-step on how to do this). Its multi-step and not exactly easy to find but available for everyone. Why not create a simple one-click tool that does this in seconds — then import into one’s new PDS? The tool can optionally send an invite link to those extracted friends including a message to why your PDS is (fill in the blank with your best adjectives).

If you follow the blockchain and cryptocurrency space you’ve noticed the explosion of Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs). Many are based on issuing a token similar to one that you’d earn in an online game. The token has a utility value on the service like paying for premium features, transactions, bonus payouts, discounts, etc. This “tokenization model” can be a powerful incentive.

Many decentralized projects, particularly blockchain are based on a utility token that provides this kind value to the user. Perhaps there could be a PDS solution that pays people to provide their personal data to interested parties. The token could also be payed as a referral point system and if necessary traded for Bitcoin, Ethereum or fiat currency on a decentralized peer-to-peer exchange like IDEX, StellerX or Bisq. In this example the PDS solution would require advertisers to convert to these “PDS” tokens to pay individuals directly for their personal data. This would be the beginning of a sustainable token economic model that’s based on network effects. It would allow controlled privacy, easy on-boarding of friends and the a personal economic incentive to participate in the community. Win-win all around.

While I’m sure there are projects today that are trying to solve this problem the reason that most of us have not heard of them is because the incentives are just now there — yet. The incentive would need to make up for the pain of moving from our comfortable social networks that we’ve updated and nurtured for years. That our friends, self worth and reputations are seemingly intrinsically tied to! We have to start somewhere and it starts today with understanding who is really moving our cheese. See below for how I apparently managed to sell my soul to 525 advertisers!

Bonus: How To Download Your Personal Data From The Major Social Networks

The first step in understanding what your data is worth is to have access to your data. Here’s how download and review all of your personal data on the major social networks Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn:

Twitter:

  1. Go to https://twitter.com/settings/your_twitter_data and click the “Request Data” button at the bottom of the page.

2. You’ll get an email with your data. Ironically I was instantly served an ad to “learn data science by working with real data sets”:

3. You can also click the “Request Advertiser list” button to see who has purchased your personal data. If you notice above unbeknownst to me I have apparently sold my soul to 525 advertisers!

Facebook

  1. Go to https://www.facebook.com/settings?tab=your_facebook_information and click the “Download Your Information” button:

2. After about ten minutes or so you’ll have the option to download a mega file with thousands of data points spanning years. Mine was almost a gigabyte:

LinkedIn

  1. Go to https://www.linkedin.com/psettings/member-data then click on “The Works”, under “Download your data” to download all of your personal data:

2. Take a plane ride to the other side of the world because it will take 24 hours until your download is ready. (If you decide to visit Taipei come join me here for some Taiwanese bubble tea!)

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