How much is your online data worth?

The White House is proposing new online privacy rules. But one analyst tells us, advertisers aren't all that interested in who you really are.

Kai Ryssdal: There are, broadly defined, two ways to think about the online privacy recommendations the White House released today. What it means for us -- where our data goes -- and what it means for companies, as in where the money is in our data. We chose the second option and got Fatemeh Khatibloo on the phone to walk me through it. Good to have you with us.

Fatemeh Khatibloo: Thanks for having me, Kai.

Ryssdal: All right, so listen. Not to make this all about me, but let's make this all about me. How much is all of this data that the White House is talking about? How much is my personal data is worth to anybody? How much would they pay?

Khatibloo: You know, I did a little research on you. And I went and I decided to see what it would cost me to target Kai and folks like you on Facebook.

Ryssdal: OK.

Khatibloo: So if I was a marketer running an ad on Facebook right now looking for 48-year-old males living in L.A. who like craft beer.

Ryssdal: Hey now, don't tell anybody that. I'm 48. Holy cow.

Khatibloo: I did my research.

Ryssdal: All right.

Khatibloo: I'd find like 34,000 people. Not a ton. But for each of those people -- if every single one of them clicked on my ad, I'd pay about $1.50. So in aggregate, $34,000 for a marketer to run an ad like that, if every single person clicked, it's not chump change. But as an individual, it's not very much money.

Ryssdal: My stuff is worth like a nickel?

Khatibloo: It's a bout a buck. Right? At the end of the day, you're worth about a buck.

Ryssdal: It's a buck. Flip it around for me though. You have to figure that the more searches I do, the more exposed I am, the more categories into which I fit. So not only is it 48-year-old male living in L.A. who likes beer, but let's say I start searching on I don't know, fly fishing and 1964.5 Mustangs.

Khatibloo: Wow. Yeah, you've got some real interesting ads there.

Ryssdal: I made those last two up, but you see my point right?

Khatibloo: I do. And the reality is there are very few marketers who are actually interested in exactly who you are. They're interested in lifestyle. They're interested in what you might look like as a set of attributes, as a demographic.

Ryssdal: So what does it mean then, if Google and all these companies are so willing to put this do not track or do not follow button on the web browser. What are they giving up?

Khatibloo: Well they've certainly not giving up. What it means is that consumers are much more aware. And consumers will start to pull back on how they behave online if they feel that they're not being respected, and their privacy and their data is not being respected. That's the crux of this. What we really need to do as an industry, as marketers, as businesses is start educating consumers and help them really understand how we really use their data. Be transparent about the information that we're sharing and that we're capturing about them. That's really what this comes down to. And I think do not track is a great first step forward for that.

Ryssdal: You know what, I want that transparency, but I also want a cut because I am the product.

Khatibloo: Yeah. The reality, again, of this situation is how do you keep track of those bits and bites, number one. And how do you attribute them back to any individual? When we talk about privacy and we talk about things like do not track and cookies, those cookies are not attributable to an individual person. There's nobody tying that information back to Fatimah Khatibloo or Kai Ryssdal. So how do we decide who gets paid for it? That's a really difficult number to come up with, a really difficult calculation to do.

Ryssdal: Khatibloo is a senior analyst at Forrester Research. Fatimah, thanks so much for um, playing along I guess.

Khatibloo: Thanks for having me, Kai. Have a good day.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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