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How to sell your private data - if you really want to

Jawbone collects fitness data - just one of the many, many kinds of data about you.

So, what is your online activity worth? You know: social media posts, web history, GPS location—the works. Right now, data brokers trade with advertisers in a multi-billion dollar market. There are also a bunch of new ways you can sell your own data. But it may not add up to as much as you would hope.

Big data brokers like Acxiom want to create a precise file on you. They want to know things like how much money you make and where you shop  online and in person. 

Matt Hogan says amassing an accurate, personal file filled with info is no easy task. “If you're Acxiom, you're the largest data broker, you're cobbling together all these different piece-meal, publicly available, stale, maybe leaked data sources and what you get is a profile that is not correct.”

Hogan is the founder of Datacoup, a start-up where consumers can sell their data directly to advertisers. He says his platform gives marketers a clearer picture of consumers, and it will give consumers some return for their data. “Why not sell your information?" he asks. "Companies already do it.”

The information sold through Datacoup is currently anonymous, and not tied to a user's identity. Still, it's an advertiser's dream—disparate information from our online lives all packaged up and sent straight from the source: us. Datacoup pays users $10 a month for it all. 

Katryna Dow, CEO of a start-up called Meeco, says your info will soon be worth much more. Meeco allows users to hide data from outsiders and record it themselves. The personal information users save could become more valuable in the future, especially as their files becomes fatter and fatter.

Dow says, “there's no reason why you wouldn't take information from your teen years and mash it up with time in your twenties or thirties or forties which just makes that core data more valuable.” She says that information may have all kinds of unforeseeable applications ten years down the road.

Dow envisions private data becoming a kind of cryptocurrency in a “Me Economy.” It could be used in transactions to purchase items and get discounts, or even secure mortgages, loans, and insurance. In a way, it would alter how we define personal identity.

All this terrifies Jeffrey Chester at the Center for Digital Democracy. 

“A huge depersonalized system has emerged that treats bits of our self like we were simply hog bellies at a commodities market,” he says. “Our data is much more valuable than just a few dollars a month it might bring us. It is really the key to who we are as, as human beings.”

Trying to put a price on that, he says, is a dangerous thing.

By the way, you can find out what Axciom knows about you through a website they launched: www.aboutthedata.com. But beware: It requires you to input some personal information. And its Private Policy section discloses that the company may use that data at a later date. 

About the author

Sam Harnett is a reporter and contributor to Marketplace.

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