October 13, 2019

Can You Put a Price on Your Data?

“IN THESE DAYS of anti-tech ire, it’s a popular cocktail hour topic: How much is Facebook making off my data? Last year, I spent a month trying to find out, hawking my personal data on blockchain-based marketplaces. I came away with $0.003. On Monday, when Senator Mark Warner (D-Virginia) announced a proposal to force tech companies to tell users the value of their data, he was slightly more generous, ballparking the average at $5 a month.

In truth, it’s probably only Facebook or Google (and their advertisers) who could hazard a good guess. “The cards are really stacked against us,” says David Carroll, a professor of media design at the New School known for his extensive quest to reclaim his Cambridge Analytica data.

Policymakers wrestling with the value of an individual’s data face a fundamental problem: While data often gets compared to oil, there’s no equivalent to benchmark crude for bits and bytes. The value is dependent on context: who has the data, where it’s going, who it came from. Beyond Warner’s bill, California Governor Gavin Newsom has mused about a “data dividend” through which residents would be paid for the data they generate for tech companies. Newsom acknowledged that it’s unclear what that check would look like.”

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