You don’t own your own data, yet the private details about yourself and your life are the currency that much of the internet economy runs on. This makes zero sense. It's also why there's long been talk of finding a way for consumers to benefit from the value placed on their personal information. Revelations about the NSA's mass data surveillance brought the issue into the spotlight, and now we're starting to see companies float ideas for how users can better claim ownership of their personal data, and choose how and when they profit off of it.
The latest is a startup called Datacoup. It’s testing a program that would offer you $8 a month for permission to access information from your credit card transactions and social media accounts, MIT Technology Review reported today.
Datacoup is an data broker first and foremost: It makes money by scooping up and analyzing data on internet users and selling the insights to marketers. But unlike most of its competition, it's seeking to give the consumer some skin in the game, both by offering a monthly kickback and also giving you some say in which companies it can sell your profile to.
Data vaults that claim to protect your online identity and let you reclaim your data are springing up post-NSA. There are companies and services that help you understand and control your personal analytics and keep track of who's tracking you, to provide greater transparency. But not many have crossed the line into actually paying out cash.
Reputation.com is getting close: It plans to launch a consumer data vault that lets you share certain personal information with certain companies in exchange for discounts, perks, or special offers. The company doesn't have details yet, but says some major airlines have expressed interest in striking a deal. Say, you give the airline access to your financial info and can get flight points in return.
As netizens become increasingly aware we're living in a surveillance economy, privacy concerns are definitely fueling the trend. Even some members of Congress are getting mighty uneasy with the fact that the multibillion-dollar consumer data trade operates almost entirely in secret. Now, perhaps we're starting to see a paradigm shift, from trying to stop web behemoths from tracking our digital footprints with privacy controls and and opt-outs, to figuring, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em.
For data brokers, involving the consumer in the transaction may also be a strategic business plan. Troves of random personal details aren’t in themselves useful to marketers and advertisers; it's usually the insights data brokers glean from them that’s valuable. By bringing the user in, companies could get unique access to distinguish themselves from the legions of brokers secretly tracking you around the web. Datacoup, for example, says it sets itself apart by mixing info from credit card transactions with social media behavior.
Can the business model work? So far no advertisers have bought data from the startup, Datacoup told the Technology Review, though it's still in its early stages. If you ask me, 100 bucks a year doesn't seem like much to make up for trading away your right to privacy. It'll be interesting to see if either side finds it's worth it. So far 1,500 people have signed up for the beta trial, and the company plans to open up the service to everyone in a few months.