Could customers charge for their information?


Not so long ago people understood that if they used a free service, such as Facebook, they were the product and not the customer, offering information in exchange for the free service. Granted, many people didn't quite understand the extent of the cost to their privacy in that exchange but even so there was a feeling of tit-for-tat, a giving and a give back. Now, in a blink of the Internet's all-seeing eye, everyone is the product--even if they are purchasing something.

Buy a phone, TV, car, what have you, overpay for it even, and still you are the product, as each of those devices are spying on you. You have, in essence, subsidized the spies. There is no longer an exchange, just tattling on your every move. So when might the tables turn and consumers start charging for their information?

I think that is a very important question, even though it is unlikely. There is value in consumer data and that data hasn't been paid for. Instead, it was taken--often as surreptitiously as a thief in the night. Was a crime committed here? Is the taking of personal data more than an invasion of privacy; can it be legally considered an actual theft?

Quite frankly, I don't know the answer to that. Hopefully, a few brilliant legal minds will comment below and let us know, or offer a guest post legally exploring this question. I'll probably call a few of them and report back to you on this as well. But meanwhile, this is not idle musing on my part. I think it a possible threat to big data practitioners, waiting to pounce in the not-so-distant future.

Eventually the public will get the idea that their personal data has monetary value--which it does, albeit not a lot. When something has value and is taken without permission, we generally think of that as theft, do we not? So, how long do you think it will be before some group tests the issue in court or pushes legislators to require data be destroyed on the grounds that it was illegally obtained by virtue of theft rather than a privacy violation?

Further, what if consumers start charging for the use of their data? How would we deal with that? What form would such a payment take? Certainly an advertisement is not a payment by any stretch of the imagination. Possibly loyalty bucks or store credits? Would paying consumers for their data be a relief (from regulations and uncertainty) or a hardship (in costs and execution)?

Inquiring minds want to know. Personally, I'll be happier when we do have some new privacy regulations or rules as then we'll at least know what is allowed and what isn't and therefore be free of the uncertainty. An uncertain future can be very costly in several ways. Here's hoping the privacy issue is settled soon.

Meanwhile, a post in The Guardian points out, "privacy breaches are almost inevitable," so there's another cost to worry about, both on the individual and the business side. You'll find that post to be a good exploration of what can and can't be done at the moment in regards to protecting privacy and preventing privacy breaches.

Have thoughts to share on this? Please do in the comments below or send me an email.

For more:
- see The Guardian post

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