“I realized that I’d been selling my data for free for ages, and decided it was time to cash in.”
Oli Frost demoing the shirt hook, or 'shook'
Google and Facebook are two of the most valuable companies in the United States and the majority of their revenue is derived from selling advertisements. The reason that these giants of Silicon Valley are able to command a whopping three-quarters of the US ad market is because of the extensive amount of data they have on their users, which can be used to target ads with uncanny precision. This user data is not impervious to abuse, as the recent Cambridge Analytica scandal reminded us, but even in the wake of the misuse of 87 million Americans’ data, Facebook’s net worth only took a small hit.
If these companies are making bank off of our data and aren’t even managing to keep it safe, shouldn’t we at least get a small cut of the action? 26-year old Londoner Oli Frost thinks so, which is why he put all of his Facebook data up for sale on eBay last weekend.
“There were loads of emails from companies over the last week about GDPR, saying how valuable and important my data was to them,” Frost told me in an email. “I realized that I’d been selling my data for free for ages, and decided it was time to cash in.”
In a listing posted to the online auction site on Saturday, Frost offered up all his personal Facebook data starting at 99 cents. His data was acquired using a Facebook tool that allows anyone to download a complete record of their Facebook activity. According to Frost’s listing, the data includes “every like, post, and inane comment since I was 16,” “photos dating back to when I had a fringe and listened to Billy Talent,” and “loads more, like who I vote for, my boss’s name, and where all my family live.”
Frost is no stranger to internet stunts—he’s the guy behind Lifefaker, the app that makes your life look perfect on social media, and Flopstarter, a crowdfunding platform for bad ideas. Still, the thought of letting some stranger buy pictures of you when you’re 16, much less get the names and addresses of all your family members, is probably enough to give most of us pause.
Frost said he’s not worried about how his data might be misused, however. In the posting, he denies the highest bidder “permission to steal my identity and open a sweatshop,” but told me he hadn’t thought about the possibility of his data being used for blackmail.
“I've got a theory that all the top bidders are actually my mum looking to teach me a hard lesson about life,” Frost said.
At the time of writing, Frost’s data had attracted 43 bidders and a top bid of about $385 USD. Frost said he intends to donate all the money to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a prominent nonprofit organization fighting for digital rights and internet privacy. Whether the highest bidder will be getting a good deal on his personal data is an open question, Frost said, because he has no idea what his data is actually worth.
“I tried to look that up online, but the articles were very long,” Frost said. “That’s why I asked the internet.”
If you have an insatiable desire to own the contents of a stranger’s life, Frost’s auction is open for another week. Happy bidding!