Making data work for you

I’m probably going over old ideas here, but out of ignorance and interest, I’ll post anyway.

There are existing initiatives that use your input to a forum to gain credit or a share of its success. There are also schemes looking to use blockchain / DLT to provide users with control over personal data.

What I have been wondering about is how we might use our data as means of value, exchange and to enable change or access.
At a basic level I may wish to

  • Donate data - to research, charities, health agencies for example, where I think the data will create impact for something I care about or as part of a wider social contract

  • Invest data - to help an organisation or initiative off the ground, but retaining some benefit or equity

  • Exchange/sell data - rather than pay for a product or service, exchange (as currently happens without recognition) certain data . Alternatively, sell data to a chosen broker for a monetary price

  • Use data as credit/saving - I’m not sure how to characterise this, and would appreciate thoughts.

There are ways that data may act in the same way as our current cash, assets and future earnings might, indeed our credit rating (which is invariably linked to data).

How this might work, well I have some thoughts, but lack the technical expertise.

Feel free to dismiss, criticise or engage with this!


If your data were valuable, you would be able to find a buyer with no problems.

If you have money then your attention is worth something. But then if you have money, you wouldn’t bother with the smallish money your attention is worth.

Oh your data is valuable alright, and its gaining value the more of it is harvested, aggregated, enriched and compiled into nice profiles. But you won’t be able to find a buyer for it easily. This because of the entrenched, well established existing market for it, that plays out behind your back.

I agree that Jonathan’s model would be a big improvement, but a lot needs to change on the internet for it to have any real impact (in small initiatives this can already work, but we want the big players to come around too).

The big players have us all locked into their walled gardens, and both the network effect (all my friends are there) and FOMO (fear of missing out) work to keep us there.

I think we can get there with, on one hand, massive public pressure and government regulations, and on other hand changes to the internet to help us, like moving Towards the Vision of The Decentralized Web! and realizing that Privacy is fundamental to Humane Tech (and Democracy)! and act accordingly.

If everyone would install ad blockers and block 3rd-party trackers too, and then also forego visiting sites that complain they cannot show you their content because of that, then it would eventually hurt their bottom line, break their business model, and change can happen.

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Well said. Agreed that personal information and social network posts are worth something. For thousands or millions of people put together that is worth a lot. But for one person, the value is just small change. The biggest issue right now is just the logistics of paying everyone a few pennies, maybe 1 or 2 Euros for their data. As I said, most people wouldn’t even bother given how small the money would be.

Just think about it. How much would you as a marketer be willing to pay for the address and demographic information of one person?

Also if people were paid for their information, they would scam the system. They would say they are millionaires and their information is worth more. If they were paid for posting they would create bots which post spam.

There is a reason why no social network or even blogging community is paying their users. Because it would be pretty much a useless effort in burocracy and complexity to throw pennies at people. Personally I don’t even want pennies or dollars thrown at me because the effort it takes to me to even check my account balance is not even close to being worth the amount of money I would get. Most people would rather have their peace and privacy than a few pennies or Euros.

A more feasible economic model:

  • Your personal information is managed by a nonprofit open foundation.
  • Marketers pay the foundation for your information so they can run ads on websites and apps. In exchange the sites and apps agree not to track you or violate your privacy, and show only high quality ads (currently the hardest part is finding high quality ads).
  • The foundation uses the money it gets from marketers to maintain an open system that holds your data and makes sure sites and apps follow strict terms.
  • Sites and apps can make good money honestly since they can better show advertisers that they have real users (not fraud) and high quality ad standards which should command a premium.
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Do we really have to continue with this kind of business model of collecting data or finding a business model alternative that doesn’t depend on user data?:neutral_face:

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Just a few hours ago I visited a site and decided to export an article to my facebook account. But before you can do that facebook asked me to allow them to monitor my online and offline (other web sites)habit by using a cookie. You didn’t have much a choice because you either allow FB or cancel it. I cancel it. Data gatherings by big tech companies in my mind are to intrusive and comprehensive. Massive data at the hands of few companies are worrisome. Just think about Cambridge Analytica scandal and China’s surveilance society.

Thanks for the responses, very interesting, and I agree with the comments about individual value for selling data from social media account. I am bit concerned I may not have been clear in expressing my thoughts, which is my mistake.

Just to clarify, I am not a fan of the current business models. I use paid-for email, storage, and other web-services that offer privacy. Likewise I use open-source OS and software and no social media. But I recognise I am in the minority (not on this site, but generally), and want to explore alternative means of business models involving data, not just what I want.

Paying for the data was only one of the options I listed, I’m interested why people haven;t picked up on the other options and non-social media sources of data? Perhaps it;s because I picked the wrong discussion title. These aren’t all about monetary gain or exchange. It’s using data as a means to enable and enact things. Data about us is sold to credit rating agencies, insight programmes, insurers, utilities etc. The price they pay varies, but my not reflect its true value or what we believe it is worth. But I don’t want to digress into a market-based uber capitalist discussion on selling data. It’s not what I meant to get into, but left in the option.

I took part in a NESTA forum (UK) on data and privacy and someone rightly argued our data, in the form of medical data in this instance, can be of great use to society. Denying all uses of your data may hold back collective progress - that;s down to each of us to discuss. That’s what I was referring to with donating data, What stops this at the moment is trust, scope creep, control and security over the data, amongst other things.

So when I am talking about data, I mean the consolidated form of data from your various services, purchases, governmental records, insurance, marketing, search engines apps, store cards, and of course, social media.

We can’t control all of this data, but things might change in the EU under the new GDPR data regs (see when people start using Subject Access Requests to obtain exactly what data and information/knowledge organisations hold about you. Recognition and understanding might induce a culture shift on the back of the awareness of Facebook et al recently.

So I guess I am talking about things on a longer-term perspective, and about how you licence (thinking like Creative Commons), control or yes, get financial or exchange value out of your data. Some people might be happy to release data for free games, media platforms etc, others may not, but at present we don’t have transparency or an understanding of whether there is a net benefit to us.

I hope this makes more sense!

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See also the Solid project at MIT - captures a lot of what I had been thinking about

Yes, the Solid project is very interesting, and was also mentioned in our ongoing disucssion in Towards the Vision of The Decentralized Web!

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I posted this on the Solid forum about which seems to be on the same path as Solid technology (also decentralized they claim), but commercial and proprietary. Good looking site, and they get lots of media attention.

Here is the product site:

As I understand it Digi Me does not allow you to earn money, but the service they provide to you is completely free, but the people who use personal data about you have to pay a transaction fee to Digi Me, and that is how they intend to sustain themselves.

A more technical discussion that is related to this topic can be found here: Investigating privacy-respecting online identity, data ownership & control solutions