Power Marketplace’s public service journalism 💙 Give Now

Taking control of your personal data

Sally Herships Jun 8, 2012

Taking control of your personal data

Sally Herships Jun 8, 2012

Kai Ryssdal: You know your personal data isn’t really all that personal anymore, right? That every time you search Google or browse on Amazon, you’re sending out at least as much information as you’re getting. So what about this: What about a way to not only control our data, but get something for it in return?

Marketplace’s Sally Herships has more.

Sally Herships: It sounds like a spy novel. Berlin, 2008. Shane Green, an American, is at a meeting near the former headquarters of the Stasi — East Germany’s notorious security agency. He’s working for Nokia, and the company is worried about competing with Google and Facebook.

Shane Green: And all of the ideas that were being thrown out really had to do with just greater tracking, greater surveilling of people.

And Green is an expert at collecting data.

Green: But it was in that meeting I just really, I just told myself — I said, I really had a moment where I said, “I’m not going to build that world.”

So he started building a different one, one that doesn’t snoop on consumers or sell our data. Green founded a website, Personal.com, where consumers are in charge. It lets you store personal information you can share with friends and family without being tracked. And later this year, you’ll also be able to share it with retailers.

Green: We said what would it look like if this person was in on the joke? If this person understood how valuable their data was and how much better their life could be if they had control over it?

Here’s how it will work. Say I’m shopping for jeans. I can log into my Personal.com account.

Herships: Jeans, my preferences — a dark wash, size eight, six at the Gap, and no low-rise please.

Personal keeps my data private, but I can choose to open it up to retailers. The idea is for them to make offers, including discounts, for my business. If I buy, Personal.com gets a cut of the discount. When I’m done, I can lock up my data to make it private again. So why don’t more companies do business this way? Doc Searls is an expert on consumers controlling their own data. He just wrote a book called “The Intention Economy: When Customers Take Charge.” He says companies are too busy chasing us on the Internet trying to read our minds instead of asking what we want.

Doc Searls: We’re going to guess better than you can at the next thing you’re going to want and there is just, in addition to just the privacy violation aspects of that, there’s just bad guesswork as well.

Think about it. When was the last time you clicked on an ad on Facebook? Searls says Internet tracking isn’t paying off. Personal is one of many new companies popping up to focus on what you could call small data. Another company doing this is Enliken. Its software tracks you online, just like a retailer. And Enliken sells your data to advertisers. But…

Enliken video: We believe it’s your right to own a copy of that information and decide who benefits from it.

You get to donate your data to a nonprofit. Well, you get to donate the money from the sale of your data. Enliken takes a 20 percent cut.

Keith Woodley: If I can direct revenue to a charity, versus just revenue straight to Google, I’m all for it. To me it’s kind of power to the people, if you will.

Keith Woodley works for Soles4Souls, a charity that donates shoes to the needy. Soles4Souls just launched its first Enliken campaign. It emailed 80,000 supporters. Woodley says as a fundraising tool, Enliken has a major selling point for consumers.

Woodley: This is not their money. It doesn’t cost them anything.

Remember the money is coming from advertisers. Enliken estimates each person’s data will bring in about $10 a year, which could add up, if people respond like Cindy Malouf in Los Angeles. She wasn’t that worried about installing Enliken.

Cindy Malouf: I feel a little less offended, a little less invaded. Because I have some sense of where the proceeds of that data is going.

Malouf uses Enliken to donate to a nonprofit that helps families volunteer together. She says there’s so much information about her already floating around the Internet, why not put it to use for good?

In New York, I’m Sally Herships for Marketplace.

There’s a lot happening in the world.  Through it all, Marketplace is here for you. 

You rely on Marketplace to break down the world’s events and tell you how it affects you in a fact-based, approachable way. We rely on your financial support to keep making that possible. 

Your donation today powers the independent journalism that you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help sustain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.  

This is NOT a paywall. 

Marketplace is community-funded public service journalism. Give in any amount that works for you – what matters is that you give today.