Innovation That Matters

How much is your personal data worth?


A pop-up data café was established as an experiment to gauge the price shoppers would place on their personal data.

How much is your personal data worth? This summer, Kaspersky Lab, makers of IT security software, conducted an experiment to try and find out. They opened the world’s first shop allowing customers to pay for goods with personal data. The company had London street artist Ben Eine create a limited-edition design, which was printed onto mugs, t-shirts and original prints. To receive their chosen item, customers had to hand over photos or screenshots of WhatsApp, SMS and email conversations. To receive the print, customers had to hand their phone to a member of staff, who would then select either five photos or three screenshots of their choice. The pop-up shop was opened for just two days, and was designed more as a thought experiment than a shopping opportunity. But it was also a chance for people to think about the ways in which they give information away for free every day.

In an earlier study, conducted with the University of Wuerzburg, Kapersky Lab found that although most people would be greatly distressed at losing the personal data on their phones and computers, they placed surprisingly little monetary value on the data. A fact that has not escaped the notice of companies which create products such as a garbage can that collects data while it sorts the trash. On average, the participants in the study placed a value of just USD 14.24 on the contact information in their phone, and USD 12.42 on their photos. Perhaps unsurprisingly for a cyber security company, Kapersky concluded that the low monetary value people place on their data was preventing many from protecting their data with proper security measures. These results may also seem surprising given the large sums of money that are being paid by marketers for access to personal data. In fact, some start-ups now allow customers to directly sell their data to advertisers. After all, if anyone is going to make money off personal data, shouldn’t it be the person the data belongs to?

Some companies have also been experimenting with models for using personal data for social good – data philanthropy. Recently, Mastercard, through its independent subsidiary, Center for Inclusive Growth, launched a data philanthropy program. Through the program, Mastercard offers governments, nonprofits, and other private companies ‘data grants’ that allow their proprietary information to be used for furthering research and programs advancing social good. Some of the initial projects included using sales data from small shops in Kenya to create a proxy for credit scores that the shop owners can show to a local bank, instead of having to rely on informal lenders; and a study on how high crime rates in Baltimore and Oakland impact local small businesses and job opportunities. Other organizations, such as the UK’s Future Care Capital, are proposing to establish health and care data cooperatives which would allow the public to donate their health data. This data could then be used for the public good, such as aligning medical research with clinical needs.

We pay with data every day – shopping data earns us store loyalty points; email addresses get us free WiFi access; likes bring tailored advertising. But we don’t always realize the true value of all the data that we give away. This leads to us not always protecting our data, and just as importantly, to not always using the data we do give away in the most productive ways. In the future, we may be able to ensure that our data benefits precisely who and what we chose. How else might we use our personal data more efficiently and fruitfully?