A New York graduate student is planning to sell his personal online data for two dollars a day and develop tools to help others do the same. So what would happen if everyone took back control of the record of his/her own digital activity?

Monetisation of Personal Data Set to Impact the Advertising Industry?

Up to now, gathering Internet users’ personal data has basically been the province of new technology sector players, which then – in return for the services they provide free of charge to their online users – mine the data in order to sell advertising space. Now Federico Zannier, an electronic engineer and graduate student at New York University, is aiming to shift the goalposts. He has launched a campaign on crowdfunding site Kickstarter for backing for a project that will enable people to collect and sell their personal online data.  A report from the Boston Consulting Group estimates that in 2020 the European market for personal data will be worth a trillion euro.  If ordinary Internet surfers manage to take back ownership of of their online data and sell to their preferred bidder, the advertising industry’s current business model might well be due for significant change.

Owning your own data

For around fifty days in a row, Zannier recorded his personal online activity, listing the addresses of websites he visited, his GPS locations, plus mapping all his Internet clicks. The IT systems expert then cleaned up this data before transforming it into images with the aid of data visualisation software. He is now offering to sell a day’s worth of data for two dollars. Even more significantly however, he is planning to develop a plug-in browser extension, plus an iPhone mobile app – tools that would enable anyone to track and collect his/her own data. In launching this initiative, Zannier foresees the day when  anyone and everyone will be able to monetise their own ‘digital footprint’, putting an end to the era when web-marketers can use the information with no payment whatsoever to the data originators. Eight days away from the end of his Kickstarter campaign, Zannier had already received offers (under the Kickstarter system, no funds are called in unless the requester receives offers to his full amount) of over $2,000 from 175 would-be donors.

Era of owner-monetised data coming soon?

Zannier’s initiative raises basic questions around personal data processing. Explains Paul Olivier Gibert, head of the Paris-based consulting firm Digital & Ethics, which specialises in personal data protection: “At the current time there are two ways of monetising what we do online. The first is to sell your data directly to firms, as Zannier is planning to do. The second is to exchange your data for a service, coupons, reduced price travel ticket, etc.”  Firms such as Personal and the French startup Yes Profil give Internet users the option of deciding who to give their data to and whether they insist on receiving a service in return. “However, at the moment data collection remains a tedious process which not everyone is able to perform,” Gibert points out. “What’s certain however is that there’s a colossal market for personal data and that people are becoming increasingly aware of the value of their digital footprint.”  The Digital & Ethics boss believes that in future intermediary firms enabling people to take control of their own data will become major players in the field of personalised advertising.