45% of Canadians willing to sell their digital data

A new study from Microsoft Corp. shows 32 per cent of Canadians are willing to sell all their digital data to the right company for the right price and 45 per cent would sell at least some of it.

Average asking price for personal data: $2,168

Data privacy has become a high-profile concern. A Microsoft study released today finds that many Canadians are willing to trade their data, for some kind of reward. (Shutterstock)

Amid the controversy over companies harvesting personal information on consumers – everything from their ages to their search interests – an increasing number of  people want something in return.

A new study from Microsoft Corp. shows 32 per cent of Canadians are willing to sell all their digital data to the right company for the right price and 45 per cent would sell at least some of it.

Those high numbers didn't surprise interim privacy commissioner Chantal Bernier, who says Canadians have a sophisticated understanding of how their data is used.

"Canadians yes, want to remain in control. They understand there is a monetary value to their personal information and they want to make sure they get their value for it," she said in an interview with CBC's The Lang & O'Leary Exchange.

The Digital Trends study by Microsoft and IPG Mediabrands found 45 per cent of Canadian respondents are interested in selling their data for a reward, but many don’t know how. 

The findings, from a survey of 9,000 people worldwide, including 1,050 in Canada, points to a need for those gathering digital data to engage with online and mobile consumers, Microsoft says.

There was strong awareness among Canadians that their data is valuable to marketers and service providers, with 35 per cent saying they had thought about how much information they hand over when they shop or browse.

Younger respondents were more likely to say they would be willing to sell all their data, or would show greater loyalty to a brand that gave them something in return. In addition to the survey, Microsoft interviewed 45 "early adopters" of technology and found them more responsive to some kind of trade between their own privacy and those who want to gather data.

Among that group, the average asking price for selling data was $2,168.

Canadians already are familiar with several types of reward programs – including grocery chains that give reward points for each dollar spent and credit cards that give travel or bonus points to cardholders.

But only 28 per cent said they knew how to harness their online data for rewards.

Misuse of data in the past has made many consumers distrustful of companies that gather information about them.

This month, the federal privacy commissioner reprimanded Google  after an investigation found that a man’s health information was used to target ads for medical devices to him. There has also been backlash over issues such as Target’s loss of consumer data and Facebook’s use of user data.

Bernier said the privacy commission made the Google ruling public to raise awareness among digital companies that they have to "up their game" to respect privacy laws.

She said the commission's own analysis of companies that gather digital data shows a wide range of privacy policies.

“Privacy policies were either totally insufficient or unreadable, way too long – some were good, some were right, but clearly there is an issue," she said.

Microsoft advises digital services to “put consumers first – be transparent and tell them how you use their information.” The study says consumers should be empowered to control their own data and exchange it for rewards.

Just how that relationship would be managed is not outlined, though Microsoft gives the example of Mydex, a British non-profit that manages personal data and gives consumers the power to parcel it out to selected brands.

The digital trends report also found:

  • 30 per cent of Canadians already expect brands to know them and offer something they didn’t even know they wanted.
  • 27 per cent of Canadians are interested in tracking biodata such as heart rate and distance walked using wearable devices.
  • 47 per cent of consumers want to spend time away from the internet.