Online Privacy Issues – Get Paid or Get Lost

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online privacy issues - calculatorHow much is your personal data actually worth to online companies? So many ‘free’ services actually package and sell you as a product. Google has made billions that way. But online privacy issues may make that data more costly in the future. Or it may disappear entirely.

Several years ago, the SWIPE toolkit published a calculator you could use to estimate the true value of your information to data aggregators and resellers. The databases are a bit out of date now, but you can still get relevant prices for your little bits of personal data. The true value of this data may surprise you.

Back in November 2012, Pro Publica reported on companies responding to a congressional query on reselling data. In part, they found:

[The company] responses, released Thursday, show that some companies record — and then resell — your screen names, web site addresses, interests, hometown and professional history, and how many friends or followers you have.

Data companies of course, do not stop with the information on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Intelius, which offers everything from a reverse phone number look up to an employee screening service, said it also collects information from Blogspot, WordPress, MySpace, and YouTube.

Online Privacy Issues Won’t Go Away – But We Might

Today [Feb 12 2013], the first article to show up in my Google Alerts (this fact is probably worth a penny or two alone) was “How to sacrifice your online privacy for fun and profit” in PC World. Going on the theory that everyone has a price:

But suppose that you wanted to grab a piece of the data-sharing action? Could you reap direct profit by voluntarily, brazenly giving away your data to the highest bidder? Though big data collection rankles privacy advocates, if you’re willing to play ball, you can share data on your own terms for fun and profit.


The Bing Rewards program allows you rack up points for using Bing services, and while it’s probably more valuable to Microsoft as a means of luring away Google diehards, it unmistakably establishes a clear exchange system of private data for profit. Earn points by conducting Bing searches, sharing your Facebook account, and pimping Bing to your friends, and then cash those points in for rewards like a $5 Amazon gift card or a month’s subscription to the Xbox Music service (a $10 value). It’s hardly a get-rich-quick scheme—but given how little Google pays us in exchange for our traffic, I’ll take what I can get.

‘Cause if you liked it, then you should have put a ring on it

- Beyonce

So why should data miners and aggregators pay for what many can get for free? Because we may be disappearing. Going on strike.

ReadWriteWeb took a look at a report on current trends in online behavior by market researcher Ovum.

What if two-thirds of the people on the Web were invisible, secretly visiting websites and searching for products and services while leaving Internet giants like Google and Facebook in the dark about what they were doing?

Signs exist today that the procession of media stories showing Internet companies compromising user privacy in favor of advertisers are having an impact on more and more people’s psyche.

Currently, most Internet business models assume easy, cheap access to user behavioral data and personal information. Sometimes its in exchange for a web service like search or social interaction. In his now famous remark in 2010, Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder and chief executive of Facebook, said “People have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people” But he was wrong. Bad behavior and irresponsible custodianship of personal data has made the public wary of trusting companies with their privacy. An emerging industry of companies and services are empowering people to drop from view while they work and play online. When these tools become easy and understood, millions could vanish from the web.

“Internet companies need a new set of messages to change consumers’ attitudes,” said Ovum analyst Mark Little in announcing the new research. “These messages must be based on positive direct relationships, engagement with consumers, and the provision of genuine and trustworthy privacy controls.”


One Response

  1. DJones

    02/12/2013, 03:45 pm

    I’ve been giving them bogus data for years. Whenever they ask for my country for example, I always pick someplace exotic – Antarctica, Fiji, Pitcairn Island. They never seem to notice. I’ve even picked “North Korea” when downloading security software. Of course, they probably figured since my last name was ‘qwerty’ and I was born in 1902 I was a pretty mild security risk.


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