The apps that help you cash in on your personal data

Mark Zuckerberg © Getty Images
Mark Zuckerberg: he has profited handsomely from your data

Every day we all hand over vast amounts of personal data to big business. Why not make a bit of money yourself from the deal?

Not so very long ago, a great many of us were happy to give away details of almost every aspect of our lives in return for some admittedly excellent and convenient free online services, the ability to keep up with friends and family, and access to the internet’s vast archive of cat pictures. Then came Cambridge Analytica’s abuse of Facebook’s vast trove of personal information. People were suddenly made aware of just how much data they were giving away, often without realising it. Soon after that, the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into force, which further reinforced the notion that our data is a valuable and sensitive resource, and that we should perhaps guard our digital privacy a little more jealously.

A hugely valuable business

A whole economy has now grown up around the collection, packaging, buying and selling of personal data. It is hugely valuable. Facebook “has built a gargantuan business, driven mostly by data-generating mobile apps, by trading what it knows about its users to advertisers”, says Matt Asay on The Register. The immense number of free programs on our mobile phones that give us everything from free music to live traffic conditions “can’t exist without copious quantities of personal data sold to the highest bidder”. And as artificial intelligence increasingly trawls this data for ever more nuanced insights into our behaviour, driving ever higher profits, this data is only going to become more valuable. By 2021 the app economy will be worth $6.3trn, says Sarah Perez on TechCrunch.

However, with the way things work at the moment, we, the originators of this data, have very little say in who gets to use it and how. User agreements are the length of a novel and written in opaque language that makes nothing clear; nobody reads them. But there is no reason why we can’t take control of this data and use it to our own advantage.

A digital vault for your data

Digi.me is an app – a digital vault for your personal information – that aims to “redefine the relationship” with your data. You give it access to all your sources and dictate who gets to see your data. You then consent to the use of your data by businesses and developers, which pay Digi.me for access. Census.xyz, an app still in development, aims to go a step further, and hopes firms will pay you for access to your data. The firm’s founder Luis Carranza reckons that could be worth up to £1,000 a year to each user (more for high-net-worth individuals) and sees a future where everything you do on your phone can be monetised by you. Want cheaper insurance? Then you can use the sensors in your phone to gather data on how far you drive, how fast and how well, then ask insurers to bid for your business based on these telematics. Connect your Fitbit to gather health data for cheaper health insurance, or your smart TV to gather data on your viewing habits and get paid by advertisers. The plan is to reward users with, inevitably, cryptocurrency tokens and Census is planning an initial coin offering later this year to enable this. Users will be able to turn tokens into vouchers (mobile phone top-ups, for example), or convert to cryptocurrency.

Big business will almost certainly continue to hoover up as much data on you as it can. You may not be able to prevent that. But there may soon be no reason why you won’t be able to cash in as well.


News bytes… crypto firms play in the sandbox

Crypto-assets could be set for mainstream adoption after the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) granted access to its regulatory sandbox to an unprecedented number of fintech companies that are experimenting with blockchain, or distributed ledger technology, says Caroline Binham in the Financial Times. The sandbox allows companies to test products in “the real market with real customers”, says the FCA, closely watched by the regulator. Of the 29 companies admitted in the latest cohort, 40% are using blockchain.They include small fintech outfits, but also major firms such as NatWest and the London Stock Exchange.

Peer-to-peer property lending platform Lendy has received full authorisation from the FCA. Lendy was launched in 2012, offering loans secured against marine assets. It now specialises in bridging and development loans to property developers, and advertises a return to investors of between 7% and 12%. It boasts 21,500 users who have invested over £400m in the last six years. Full authorisation means lenders must satisfy minimum capital requirements, and have satisfactory provisions in place in the event that the platform fails. P2P loans are not, however, covered by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme.

CoinCorner is a UK-focused cryptocurrency exchange that aims to make it easier to buy cryptocurrencies. The company, founded in the Isle of Man four years ago, offers the option of buying via UK debit or credit card, and claims to have 150,000 users with an average purchase of £300. Customers can buy up to £900 worth of cryptocurrency before having to verify their identities. CoinCorner says it hopes to offer a bitcoin debit card where users can spend their balances like cash.

Young people are putting “too many eggs in the crypto-basket”, says Ben Clatworthy in The Times. A recent survey found that a fifth of people between 21 and 35 said they would rather invest in bitcoin than property, with “more than half” citing the “high-risk” nature of property over the next five years. While older investors prefer ripple, bitcoin is the “millennials’ cryptocurrency of choice”, despite falling from a high of almost $20,000 in December to just over $6,000 now.