What is Our Personal Information Worth? Apparently not Very Much.

A March 2012 article in The Atlantic says our personal information is worth between $.01 and $1200.  According to the article, the difference is attributable to respective values of:

1.         The purchase price of our information as part of a huge block of information about thousands of people.

2.         The value of our information in the hands of, for example, Google or Facebook.

In the latter case, value is determined with reference to how much Google or Facebook can charge advertisers – which is something we can’t do, so we could never get that value in the marketplace.

Some courts have agreed with this assessment. Consider this from Low v. LinkedIn Corp.
900 F.Supp.2d 1010, N.D. Cal., 2012:

Plaintiffs have not persuasively alleged that they “reasonably expect[ed] that they would be compensated for the ‘value’ of their personal information.” … Plaintiffs have not alleged that they, or any other LinkedIn users, have been foreclosed from opportunities to capitalize on the value of their personal data. Although Plaintiffs cite to Allow Ltd. as an example of a company that offers to sell people’s personal information on their behalf and gives them 70% of the sale, Plaintiffs do not allege that they have made any attempt to do so through Allow Ltd. or any similar service. In sum, the alleged decrease in the value of Plaintiffs’ personal information does not constitute cognizable contract damages for the purposes of a breach of contract claim.

But at least one person thinks $.01 is too low.  In February of this year Federico Zannier starting collecting some of the information he generates in using the Web.  He put a project on Kickstarter, in which he proposes to sell that information for $2 a day.  (He’s created some graphics that are a worthwhile diversion that I recommend.)

Maybe he’s right.  We are starting to see businesses offering opportunities to buy our information, which they then sell through their services. For example, Enliken offers us the opportunity to sell our browsing information to retailers in exchange for discounts and other offers from them.  The actual value of those discounts and offers is anybody’s guess though.  It’s highly speculative, so I have to assume a low value.

(By the way, it appears that Allow Ltd., the business referred to by the Low court, is no longer in existence.  So maybe that tells us something.  Look out Enliken.)

In an earlier post we discussed Miinome, the Minnesota start-up company that wants us to sell them our genetic information.

Miinome CEO Paul Saarinen has said:

We want to show our members the value of their information, because we believe it has significant untapped value.

So there’s some kind of value in our genetic information.  It will be interesting to see just how much that is, but Miinome doesn’t offer us any clues.  Also, I have to assume Miinome wants to keep most it though.  So we’ll have to call that speculative too.

Of course the most common information sales transaction we engage in is a non-monetary one.  As we know, we give our information away all the time.  When we use Facebook, or most search engines, or even when we use a website to research medical information.   Our information is the price of admission.  Please decide the value of admission for yourself.

What does this mean as a practical matter?  It means that you won’t be compensated for misuse of your personal information in most cases.  The Federal Trade Commission might go after a bad actor, but the FTC isn’t going to send us a check as our portion of the penalties they assess.

You get nothing.

Perhaps that would be outrageous, if we weren’t so willing to accept it.  But it seems that we are – maybe.  In the article in The Atlantic, we find this:

In a survey by Carnegie Mellon’s Lorrie Cranor and Stanford’s Aleecia McDonald, only 11 percent of Americans would be willing to pay $1 per month to withhold their data from their favorite news site. However, 69 percent of Americans were not willing to accept a $1 discount on their Internet bills in exchange for allowing their data to be tracked.

A conundrum.  However, a more recent study by Infosys Ltd. finds that:

U.S. consumers overwhelming agree (85 percent) that they would be more likely to purchase from a retailer again if they provided offers targeted to their interests, wants or needs, and 81 percent feel similarly if offered incentives based on location.

On the assumption that U.S. consumers understand that those targeted offers are the result of their information being tracked, I have to further assume that U.S. consumers have given up and will take the coupon in exchange for their privacy.  So maybe Enliken will survive after all.

Maybe the NSA should give out coupons.

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