What Is Personal Data?
“Personal data” is a pretty vague umbrella term, but the definition is basically any data by which an individual can be identified from. So this is anything from your name, health records, social security/national insurance numbers, email address (with your surname included) driving license etc.
All this information is collected on a wide spectrum of consent: Sometimes the data is passed over to businesses knowingly, while in other scenarios users might not understand they’re giving up anything at all. Often, it’s clear something is being collected, but the specifics are hidden from view or buried in hard-to-parse terms-of-service agreements.
Many apps use your location to serve up custom advertisements, but they don’t necessarily make it clear that a hedge fund may also buy that location data to analyse which retail stores you frequent. For example; Barneys New York – a chain of high-end US department stores – uses an immensely sophisticated location-based marketing model based using beacons. Users who enable push notifications and location awareness receive a host of
of products that are in-stock based on items in their digital basket or articles read via the brand’s digital magazine.
We’ve all been there, when we’ve noticed that the same shoe advert follows them around the web knows they’re being tracked, but fewer people likely understand that companies may be recording not just their clicks but also the exact movements of their mouse.
In both of these scenarios, the customer got something in exchange in return for allowing a business to monetise their data. They received a personalised promotion based on user behaviour or browse the latest footwear trends from the comfort of their computer or phone. This is the same sort of bargain Facebook and Google and the like offer. Their core products, including Instagram, Messenger, Gmail, and Google Maps, don’t cost you a penny, all free at the point of use. The value they extract from it is your personal data, which is used to target you with ads.
How Much Is Your Personal Data Worth?
In terms of value to businesses, personal data is right up there. Recent comparisons have been made with the value of oil, in that it powers today’s most profitable businesses. Think of your Amazon, Netflix, Facebook, Google or any other billion-dollar company to which personal data and behavioural data is intrinsic to its value. So, just like fossil fuels energised those of the past, personal data is helping revolutionise business of the present and future. But the consumers it’s extracted from sometimes know little about how much of their information is collected, who gets to look at it, and what it’s worth. Every day, hundreds of companies you may not even know exist gather facts about you, some more intimate than others. That information may then flow to academic researchers, hackers, law enforcement, and foreign nations—as well as plenty of companies trying to sell you stuff. American businesses are estimated to have spent over $19 billion in 2018 acquiring and analysing consumer data, according to the Interactive Advertising Bureau.
The value is not only felt by businesses though. As Kippie uses your personal data in an “Insurance Passport”, which is useable between countries. The insurancepassport allows you to access their panel of insurers for 20-50% less than what they currently pay, giving you a great product based on your personal data.
Who Buys and Sells My Personal Data?
The trade-off between the data you give and the services you get may or may not be worth it, but another breed of business amasses, analyses, and sells your information without giving you anything at all: data brokers. These firms compile info from publicly available sources like property records, marriage licenses, and court cases. They may also gather your medical records, browsing history, social media connections, and online purchases. Depending on where you live, data brokers might even purchase your information from the Department of Motor Vehicles. Don’t have a driver’s license? Retail stores sell info to data brokers, too.
Can I Sell My Own Personal Data?
One thing you can do is approach the companies directly (through their marketing or sales departments) or find a business data broker. The data brokers might then sell this information to other corporations, or they might use it themselves to help them choose which ads to show you next. So all these businesses are now making money selling your personal data, making billions from all this information being provided to them. Another way to sell your personal data is to use apps such as Data Wallet and Panel App.
Data Wallet, launched on June 9th, 2015, wants people to opt into sharing their data (the app maker then sells it to marketing firms) so they can make a quick buck on the information they inadvertently already provide. The set-up process begins with deciding what data you want to share. Members can give access to their Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest accounts, and fine-tune the settings for each if they don’t, for example, want to include their hometown or work history.
The app then aggregates this data from all parties, strips it of any personally identifiable information (such as name, email, and phone number), and condenses it into analytics reports. Companies can then buy those reports from DataWallet. User is paid every time one of the reports containing their data is sold.
Panel App, measures device data, including apps and location, for the purpose of analytics and reporting. Location data is pooled with data collected from hundreds of thousands of panellists to provide meaningful insights to third parties. Analytics and reporting are limited to aggregates of multiple users. As soon as your account is verified, you start earning points for every day it is left running in the background.
The Future of Personal Data Collection
Personal information is currently collected primarily through portable devices, such as laptops and smartphones. The introduction of devices such as smart speakers, censor-embedded clothing, and wearable health monitors means data is more easily and widely accessible than before. Even those who would avoid using these devices will likely have their data gathered, by things like facial recognition (CCTV) cameras installed on street corners. Other devices such as the Amazon Echos are now constantly listening in and collecting data in millions of homes.
With so much data readily and easily accessible, new regulations are being introduced to help govern how businesses handle and share the data. As of yet, customers are still in the early stages of understanding how best to navigate this new data-filled world. It raises some potential questions about who should be allowed access to the personal data. Should colleges be permitted to digitally track their teenage applicants? Should we allow health insurance companies monitoring Instagram posts?
Personal data is used by algorithms to make incredibly important decisions, like whether someone should be allowed a loan application based on their credit rating. Those decisions can easily be biased, and researchers and companies like Google are now working to make algorithms more transparent and fair.
Tech companies are also beginning to acknowledge that personal data collection needs to be regulated. Microsoft has called for the federal regulation of facial recognition, while Apple CEO Tim Cook has argued that the FTC should step in and create a clearinghouse where all data brokers need to register.