Trying to sell your data

I have news for you people: your data ain’t worth nuthin’:

I was ready to call it quits—unless, that is, my proceeds reeled me back in. I tallied up my fiat (that’s money, to the rest of us): 162 WIB, 1 DAT, 0 NRN. My earnings, while eclectic, were worth approximately 0.3 cents.

That is from a recent Wired article by Gregory Barber, who tried to sell his data in the open market.  Yet data can be worth a good deal in the aggregate — just ask some of the major tech companies.  The economics here are a bit like the economics of voting.  If it were legal, and you tried to sell your vote and your vote alone, you might not get much more than 0.3 cents.  That vote is unlikely to prove decisive.  Yet average and marginal value do not coincide.  If someone could buy a whole block of votes, which in turn could swing an election, the price could be much higher.

The upshot is that giving individuals ownership of their data, so they can sell it, is unlikely to yield much, unless of course you think widespread consumer collusion will prove feasible.

For the pointer I thank the excellent Samir Varma.


I'd pay 1 cent (that's 3 times the average!) for Mike Pence's data. He seems a little too quiet. Tells me there is more to the guy than meets the eye.

Also at 0.3 cents/vote and roughly 25 million votes to win a Presidential election, that means I only need $7.5MM. That's cheap. I don't need a Soros, Koch, or Adelson level donor just dibs and dabs from grassroots a la Bernie Sanders.

Last thought, if our data is worth nothing, then we need to start shorting Google, Facebook, and Palanthir. All that money you make could go into your winning Presidential campaign!

You are confusing marginal price and average price.

'The upshot is that giving individuals ownership of their data, so they can sell it, is unlikely to yield much...'

Well, the considerably more relevant perspective is that by giving individuals ownership of their data, the individual can decide what someone else does with their data, using the law to ensure that the individual's ownership of their data is vigorously enforced.

Generally, you don't own something to merely sell it, you own something to prevent other people from considering it theirs in the first place.

The law doesn't force anyone to open a Facebook account.

Of course not - and I have never had a facebook account.

However, there is the matter of shadow profiles - which facebook denies creating (though in light of facebook's proven lying, one can only say anyone believing when facebook says "trust me," they are clearly "dumb fucks').

This is a quite interesting potential problem for facebook in the EU, actually.

'A shadow profile is a collection of data that Facebook has collected about you that you didn’t provide yourself. In other words, let’s say you’re a cautious social media user, and you limit what information you put online. While you may not have listed your cell phone number, if one of your connections used the “Find My Friends” feature and allowed Facebook to scan their contacts, Facebook collected all the other information about you associated with that contact.

Even if you never provided them, Facebook very likely has your alternate email addresses, your phone numbers, and your home address — all helpfully supplied by friends who are trying to find you and connect.'

Here is some further information - 'If you’re thinking that by not using Facebook, you’ve avoided all of this — Facebook has been the target of multiple class-action lawsuits alleging the company collects this information about non-users without their consent.

One recent lawsuit focuses not on email addresses or phone numbers, but instead “face templates”: whenever a user uploads a photo, Facebook scans all the faces and creates a “digital biometric template”.

In other words, Facebook is using math to determine who’s who in a picture, based on a scan of your features. If you’re already a user, Facebook can suggest that your friend tag you, but if you’re not a user, Facebook attaches your “face template” information to the same ghost profile with your other contact information on it.'

Back in December I shared on FB a photo of photo from college days...only with friends from those college days. It was interesting to note that FB attempted to tag several of the individuals in the photo that was 30+ years old. I rejected the tags. The FB biometric data is sophisticated enough that it can track the facial profile of someone across at least 30 years. I've been slowly backing off FB the past 18 months. Would be off it entirely if I could do so. Must use professionally in a few situations.

TC says: "If it were legal, and you tried to sell your vote and your vote alone, you might not get much more than 0.3 cents. That vote is unlikely to prove decisive." - only true in a First World country without corruption.

Here in the Third World Philippines, the going rate for a vote is about $10 - $20 (500 to 1000 pesos) for a local election for say mayor, depending on the city; for national elections I've heard even higher amounts. The politician can afford to pay this because they fully expect to recoup their money, with interest, via bribes while in office. Rival politicians will exchange "bought votes lists" after the elections to ensure that they were not played by some voter getting money from several candidates. If you're caught receiving money from several candidates, a nice goon shows up to your door after the election and asks for their money back, as happened to a friend of mine.

Excellent point. I was going to make a point of how we technically have "vote buying" in the US in some locals already, and going rate - interestingly enough - is about $20. I've seen them distribute gift cards, meal vouchers, and in-kind catering to "get out the vote". I've seen black churches tell their parishioners that showing up at such and such a place or a restaurant with an "i voted" sticker will get them a free something.

More sophisticated than a driect cash contribution, but votes are absolutely bought here. Going rate is about $20. So much for the average price vs marginal....

We have a ‘political’ market price for vote ‘buying’ at $25000. It’s called social security ($15k per year) and Medicare ($10k). This isn’t for R or D, it’s the State’s mechanism for limiting chances of a regime change. Take from the young (non voters) and pacify the old (voters).


I think you would enjoy this book.

Cowen: " Yet data can be worth a good deal in the aggregate — just ask some of the major tech companies." If the tech companies had to pay fair value for the data, wouldn't "fair value" be based on the aggregate? If I wish to purchase a majority (or controlling) stake in a company, I would have to pay a control premium. If the company is a public company, couldn't I avoid paying the control premium by purchasing the shares incognito in the public market? Well, I suppose one could, but one would be violating securities laws. Sellers of shares in the public market are protected from such behavior, so why shouldn't "sellers" of their data? I know, the securities laws are an abomination.

Truth. My data is worth less than nothing.

Why is Facebook stock worth $143.80?

Short everything.

This is a gross simplification of the whole issue. Tyler, you know better.

If personal data is worth that little, where can I pay to keep my own data out of circulation?

Hey! I'm doing research on this topic through Northwestern University. I'd love to ask you a few questions about the whole data choice dilemma and hear more about the idea of keeping your data out of circulation. Please let me know if you'd be interested in connecting via email or phone in the next few weeks. Thanks! -Rachel

What could be the value of personal or individual data never shared or distributed over the internet?

How much value must personal data be accorded for any person to BE (not only to FEEL oneself to be) "an individual" in an era of almost exclusive analysis and treatment of human phenomena in terms of social categories and mass movements?

Is any non-tech association of individuals capable today of dispensing with social media habits, commercial media conventions, addled tech preferences, and pernicious academic lying about the advent of "all-of-us-ism"--Dostoevsky's dread vsemstvo, "omnitude"? (Cf. "Notes from Underground".)

Death to omnitude as to Americans' heedless acceptance of amply-proffered and nearly-exclusive "social categories".

Death to overweening social media. (Why has the public murder of wireless phones not yet become a widespread pastime? [I happily hammered one to death on a kitchen floor once.])

Death also to the tech-herding of fragile human mentalities and to incipient and otherwise tacit collectivism, no matter what convenient apparatus our Tech Establishment gifts us with, even when or if it comes with hearty academic approval and endorsements.

Check out this free personal data calculator you can use to find out how much companies and hackers make selling your data. Spoiler Alert, it's WAY more than 3 cents:

Generating all that data is work, and I think like other forms of labor it should be protected by a union. Thus, in the future all the tech companies will have to negotiate with Data Generators Local #1456 to get any data. That will guarantee that lowly data generators like us stand in solidarity against greedy tech company management. Also we will give ourselves $110k / yr pension plans that kick in at 55.

Each individual vote has the same value, but data value is probably Pareto.

Geeez -- personal "Data" is way too vague a term to calculate its exact value.

The referenced article here refers only to "FACEBOOK" data -- a very narrow data category.

What's the street value of your full credit card data or specific access data to your online bank accounts ?

This is a great point. Your sensitive data (bank accounts, social security, passport numbers) make Hackers a lot of money. Check out this free personal data calculator you can use to find out how much money companies and hackers make selling your data. Spoiler Alert, it's WAY more than 3 cents:

It would not surprise me if valuations of personal data were as varied as valuations of shares of internet companies during the dot-com boom. I think that money is being spent collecting and processing data well in advance of concrete means of actually earning money from that data, so there is little solid evidence of what that data will really be worth to calibrate people's opinions.

Facilitating "widespread consumer collusion" could very well be the blockchain "killer app" Tyler keeps asking people about.

The author's method of getting money in exchange for his data is a very poor one. There are many apps that will pay you to watch videos (a few bucks a week) or for read-only access to your credit cards (1-2% of your spending at certain retailers) and others that will pay you (a few dollars a week) to fill out surveys. And those are just small components of "his data". Just because he's bad at getting paid for his data doesn't mean it's not worth anything - he just didn't google "make money online".

“...tracking our purchases across the web to flesh out detailed psychographic profiles...”

Companies like Facebook and Google have giant ontologies of subjects that
people’s profiles are algorithmically associated with. Advertisers by access to the subjects not directly to the profiles themselves. There’s nothing particularly scary about this. It’s not like some Stasi “dossier” as some tinfoil hat types would have you believe, so who really cares?

Facebook at least makes it completely open what parts of the ontology you’ve been mapped to. Just go to Settings | Ads | Ad Preferences | Your Interests.

If you remove a particular interest you won’t see ads from advertisers who’ve purchased a buy targeting those subjects. Remove them all if you like.

The other thing is to not access Facebook from an app since you have less control over ad blocking. Always access it from the browser even on mobile, and unless you’re one of those oddballs that doesn’t run an ad blocker, you won’t see any ads on any subject regardless.

A rock in a dam ain't worth a damn. But what is the worth of the dam?

Insurance companies pay Google $10s of dollars for a single click on an ad on a search for "car insurance"

A counter example?

"Facebook paid teenagers to mine device data"

Yes, data in aggregate is valuable. And yes, if you try to sell your personal data on a marketplace right now, it will be a measly 3 cents. But this is because a transparent market where individuals are empowered by their data and can participate in the price setting doesn't exist. My first goal was to answer the more pressing question, "What is the value of MY data?" so I created a free data calculator app anyone can use to estimate how much money companies and hackers make selling your personal data based on which apps you use and what hacks your accounts have been impacted by. Check it out and let me know what you think!

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