Sell your own data instead of giving it away to big tech

In the last few decades, tech companies have made billions off the data we've given them for free. Now, some companies are offering to help users sell their data directly.

New businesses offer to sell your consumer data for you

Small toy figures are seen in front of Facebook logo. (REUTERS)
Matt Hogan is the founder and CEO of Datacoup. (Matt Hogan/Twitter)
Companies like Facebook and Google make billions of dollars by selling, or using, our personal data. The data could be used by many different entities for many different reasons: from universities for research, to brands for creating targeted ads.

But rather than just giving their data away to these companies in exchange for access to their platforms, some people are looking to options that allow them to make money selling access to their personal data.

Matt Hogan is the founder and CEO of Datacoup, a company that allows users to sell their personal data directly. He spoke to Spark host Nora Young.

Why did you want to do this? Why do you think this is important?

Every time I signed up for a new credit card, a new debit card, or loyalty card, a new browser, a new device, a new social platform—every time I clicked "confirm" or "submit" or "yes" to the terms of service, I knew somewhere back in the deep recesses of my mind that I was granting access to a very valuable resource, and I was granting that access to somebody else to do what they wanted with it. And it just struck me as kind of crazy.

I think the analogy is like you own land, and mineral rights to what is under your land. And all of a sudden, somebody comes in and sticks a pipe in it and starts piping out oil from your land and profits from it themselves. You would never allow that, that would be insane. And that's in effect what happens every day with the consumer exploitation of data.

And so how much is a person's data actually worth?

We get that quite a bit from journalists and the reality is, there's no real good way to answer that question.

First of all, there is sale value data. Let's say we turn an individual into just a tracking code, and then aggregate a bunch of people on top of it, that's sale value data. And there are consumers of that kind of data, like market researchers or brands or hedge funds that have no interest in selling something back to you. This is not a marketing tool. This is just to find patterns and correlations across a large scale data set.

And then there's the usage value of data, where an individual would use their data in the course of a transaction. A great case of that would be: I have a pre-existing life insurance policy, let's say I pay $2000 a year for that policy. My life insurance provider would love to know how I'm spending my money. So if they got to look at my credit card history that would give them great insight. Does Matt buy a lot of Whole Foods or McDonald's? And if it's one way or the other on that spectrum, that could have major implications to my longevity on this planet and, of course, to their premium pricing.

I wish I could give you like a clean number and say, "Oh, an individual's data is worth a hundred dollars." There's zero chance or way of anybody who's telling you that, or gives you a definitive number and says this is what data is worth, isn't selling you snake oil.

For most of us, we pay for "free" services like Facebook and Google with our data. So if people start selling their data themselves, does that change the value proposition for those companies and how they make their money?

I do think so to some extent.

If there's widespread adoption of this type movement, I don't know if it puts the Facebooks and the other companies and entities that are reliant on data out of business per se, but I think there probably is a big chunk of revenue that gets eaten into if consumers are monetizing data on their own.

Now, that being said, if you're creating valuable data on a private company or even a public company's platform, to some extent they have usage rights over that data. You grant them that in terms of service, but that's their property and you're choosing to use it.

There very likely is a shifting of revenue streams in economics that currently resides with a lot of centralized platforms. And there is going to be some bridge that is built into a world where those revenue streams are pushed out to the consumer.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Click the listen button above to hear the full conversation.

This segment also featured Bart Custers, Associate professor of law and digital technology at Leiden University.