A few years, Malte Spitz, a German politician, discovered that Deutsche Telecom was storing his phone data. With this information, Deutsche Telecom could determine where Spitz was at any point over that six-month period, right down to the street he was standing on at any given time.
When he asked them to hand over the data to him, they refused. After successfully suing them, Spitz released it out across the world. You can see all the data here, right down to what he was tweeting about as he passed through a particular town centre.
Now, it’s unlikely that Deutsche Telecom had any particularly malicious plans to use this data against Spitz, but the experience is unsettling nonetheless. Why did Spitz have to go to such extreme lengths?
The fact is that we often forget how valuable our data could be to others. The most obvious way companies use it is through targeted advertising and offers. Amazon sends you e-mails related to your shopping history, for example. Likewise, your internet browsing habits influence the ads you receive. In Spitz’s case, Deutsche Telecom might have tracked his spending habits in order to determine the best price package for him.
It’s estimated that the US government spends up to $2bn a year collecting our personal data. So why shouldn’t the individuals themselves see some of that return? Well, if a new EU law comes to pass, things could be about to get a whole lot easier.
Make a deal for your data
The EU is proposing a right to data portability that could be introduced as early as next year. This would allow individuals to request personal data in a reusable format, giving them the chance to share, or even sell it, to other firms.
So how much do you think your date of birth is worth? What about your age? Or your eye colour? Well, the answer could be as high as $1trn. That’s how much Boston Consulting Group estimates the personal data industry will be worth by 2020.
In the personal data industry, every detail about you is worth something. If you’re really curious, you can start looking now. The Financial Times has even set up a data calculator to see how much you might be worth. You can try it out for yourself here. It might sound shocking to some but seeing as we already put most of this information online for free, it was only a matter of time before someone found a way to monetise it.
An American company called Handshake pays users for personal details, ranging from sleeping habits to food intake. Through its app, Handshake acts as a marketplace allowing companies to approach individuals for their data. Companies will explain the data they’re looking for and the financial compensation involved. You can accept, decline or even haggle with the company and if the deal falls through then there’s no problem. Individuals can choose how exposed they are, even with the option of being totally anonymous. Of course, as anonymity increases, income decreases.
Is anyone surprised?
A few years ago, the notion of selling your personal data would have been unheard of, but things seemed to have changed. Look at the NSA revelations. We always knew that governments held our data, but only became truly aware of the sheer scale of it last year. But are we really that bothered? We certainly should be. Yet I’m constantly surprised at how much personal information people will happily broadcast via social media.
Maybe we now have a generation who have grown up with the internet, are comfortable with it and don’t regard this new openness as a big deal. Perhaps we are simply more confident and aren’t embarrassed to express our views and let strangers into our lives. Or perhaps it’s simply a matter of control. We’re more than happy to put our information out there as long as we get some type of return, whether it be social validation, money, or security.
And that’s why new investment opportunities will keep cropping up for smart, nimble companies. I thought it was important enough to write a full report on it. You can find it here. There’s a very positive, helpful side to the data revolution. Let’s just hope that we can hold on to at least some privacy!