Thoughts of selling personal data

Over the last few years there have been a number of stories, ideas and postings regarding selling personal data. I thought I'd gather them up in one place because they are defining a requirement that needs to be fulfilled - probably within the next 12 months. Original post from 2007, updated Feb 2018.

2002 - Chris Downs, founder of the Service Innovation and Design company Live|Work set up a project called Loome. Here he offered 800 pages of personal information up for sale on eBay. The project was also covered by Business Week in its article Wanna See My Personal Data? Pay Up.

2003 - John Deighton of Harvard Business School also proposed that individuals should capitalize on their personal data rather than relying on regulators to protect their privacy from Telemarketers, Dataminers and Consumer companies. An interview with Deighton was published by CNET News. The concept was detailed in his paper 'Market Solutions to Privacy Problems?'

2006 - Dennis D. McDonald has also been considering the sale of his personal medical and financial data. The principles that he states include the individual being the rightful owner of the data and therefore being the one who will stand to financially benefit from any transaction involving that data. The idea is detailed in his blog entry entitled Should We Be Able to Buy and Sell our Personal Financial and Medical Data?

2006 - The Register reports a scheme by Bracknell Forest Borough Council in the UK that allows individuals to sell their own personal data that is collected on Council issued Smartcards. 45,000 residents carry cards that contain information such as library books borrowed, indications of income and family. A council spokesman said that this data could allow companies to target direct mail with enough accuracy to stop it being annoying, as it would present people with offers that were of genuine interest. Proceeds from the sales would create discounted council tax for the data owner. The story can be found at Data sales for tax cuts.

2007 - An person only identified by the eBay handle 'highlytargeted' has auctioned off ' non-personally identifiable information to help you better target ads to me'. The package included the past 30 days internet search queries, past 90 days web surfing history, past 30 days online and offline purchase activity, Age, Gender, Ethnicity, Marital status and Geo location and the right to target one email ad per day to me for 30 days. If the auction is still available, you can see it here.

2007 - Iain Henderson who blogs on Right Side Up articulates the need for a system of Personal Information Management that will allow an individual to take ownership of their data, to be informed of data breaches and to be able to captalize on any trading of that personal information. More detail can be found on the Right Side Up site in the posting Can I own my data.

2011 - Finally, i-allow is offering a service where you are able to lock up your personal data and with permission, let it out to various marketing agencies. Presumably the marketers pay i-allow, i-allow skim a little (or probably a lot) and then pass the remainder onto the consumer as a dividend from their data. The only problem I can see with this is that your data is actually already out there in databases, marketing lists and with the credit checking agencies. The opt-out clause on any of these data sources needs to be strong and implemented. Here's what WSJ had to say about it in their post Web's Hot New Commodity: Privacy

2011 - Time Magazine reports on the multi-billion dollar industry trading our personal data, an industry that has developed right under our noses and without our explicit consent. The fact that is this now mainstream news maybe of note, but I believe the stronger forces in play are the sheer volume of personal data that is already being traded, the complete dependence of the marketing industry on this data and the apathy or ignorance of the average consumer as to the potential risks associated with this practice. The full Time Magazine post provides the full detail Data Mining: How Companies Now Know Everything About You

2014 - A couple of new hopeful experiments have appeared on the horizon. Firstly there is Data Coup Others Take Your Data For Free, This Site Pays Cash and secondly there is The Good Data Share Your Data, Fund Microloans To Developing World. Both sites allow you to push your social feeds into their repository and they broker the aggregated data to third parties. In return the customer gets money. My question, how much money will cause a customer to go to the trouble? What is the threshold ratio between customers who have time but no money and customers who have money but no time. This will also determine the value of that data to potential buyers. Let's keep watching the space.

2015 - 2015 has brought another raft of hopeful contenders in the space. PBB is a technology platform that gives you control of the data you produce every day. Personal Blackbox has created the Personal Data Independence Trust - due for launch anytime soon. Handshake in the UK is trying a similar approach, "The basic idea is to create a marketplace for personal data. “ will turn what has previously been stolen into a currency which can be traded,”

2017 - Data Wallet has gained funding and has launched a blockchain powered personal data management platform, that has created a marketplace for data processors to acquire data, compensating individuals with digital tokens that can be spent on AI services. Wibson is another blockchain based centralized data marketplace, allowing individuals to sell their own data. So the blockchain idea of distributed and secured data creates a level of security, but the low unit value of personal data still remains an obstacle to gaining consumer adoption at scale.