How much am I worth to the Internet?

April 18, 2014
Min read

As a nineteen year old University student, the biggest issue I face when it comes to data privacy, is trying to evade the prying eyes of my mum in such a way so as not to hurt her feelings by de-friending her (sorry mum). So when it was suggested that I should write an article on Accumulated User Value and online data currency, you could imagine the dumbfounded expression that accompanied my “Sure! I would love to!”The task was to investigate what exactly my online user data might be valued at, or in other words, what is the market value of the data I reveal to Facebook, Twitter and Google, including their subsequent services.And so, aimlessly thrashing my stick through the air, trying to listen to the swarms of voices yelling in different directions, dizzy, confused and desperate for candy, I asked the question; “What am I worth to the Internet”?Active User Values, vary by factors such as age, marital status, geographical location, personal health and even the type of service you are engaged with. They multiply each time you use a service; the more 'active' you are, the more data you generate. This information is then neatly packaged and bought by 3rd parties who use it as a means for targeted advertising.Essentially, as an Active User, your personal worth of data is determined by how vulnerable you are to advertising, and specifically those who are willing to pay the most for you; Financial Services, Insurance and the Legal sector. No surprises here right? We all know that services like Google benefit us greatly and that we offer them our personal data in return, but is this a fair exchange?

Pretty Average figures.

If you had the pleasure of following my breadcrumb trail, you’d find I was led to an awesome app called Facebookworth.com . It’s a website that “uses Google Finance data and some published Facebook statistics to show you in real-time, what you and your friends are worth to Facebook”. It is based on a generic profile model of 250 friends and Google finance tools. However, I consider myself as 'pretty average' when it comes to social networking, and my friends count reaches almost quadruple that figure! And believing statistics published by Facebook and Google, is like believing everything you read on the Internet, not that there’s anything wrong with that…Lurking around in the cyber dystopian tech blogs of doom, Facebook users have been estimated to represent raging extremes of $43 to $190 in market share value, and it has even been suggested that individual Facebook 'likes' can fetch as much as $173 in revenue on business pages (references: fool.com, facebookworth.com/, ibtimes.com/).Google pinches a higher personal user revenue of $43.16 compared to Facebook’s humble $4.84 (2012). Google also reflects a higher market share value of a whopping $221.93 per Active User (reference: fool.com). It has been uttered; Twitter users collect up to $120 of accumulated worth each, Tumblr users come in at $27.50 and Instagram at $6.50 when considered for their relative value (reference: psmag.com). But are these figures real representations of the people who actually engage in Social networking?

We all know that services like Google benefit us greatly and that we offer them our personal data in return, but is this a fair exchange?

Extraordinary Figures

A less average example, Federico Zannier – featured the sale of his data on Kickstarter.com. He offered to sell his data movements including online tracking and breadcrumbs for a hefty $2 a day. The types of data for sale include Screenshots, Webcam pictures, Application monitoring and references to downloaded material. He certainly provokes an interesting idea; “I'm thinking marketers could just pay us directly for our data. It might sound crazy, but so is giving all our data away for free,". Federico may have turned over $1000 on the first day of sale (reference: pcmag.com), but I’m not sure I could cultivate similar results. I may not be average, but I’m not exactly a millionaire entrepreneur with my own cult following.If only there was a place, a beacon of light, someone to offer a piece of mind! Datacoup is a startup from New York that claims to offer exactly that. It enables users to directly sell their data to companies for $8 a month in exchange for access to your data on platforms like Google and Facebook, though they do not disclose at what price it is then resold for (reference: datacoup.com). I have an inkling that suggests my data to be worth much more than a measly $8 a month if I am actively in the market for a product or service. If my online behaviour now leads to my choices in the future, then that's got to valuable to someone?Right now data, like tumbleweed, is rolling across a valley of confused souls. There is a growing concern over 3rd party disclosure terms and the desire for privacy is on the rise. Will people shy away from selling personal data, will advertisers catch on? Is autonomy too much to ask for in the wild west of tech?

You’re worth more than what you think.

As an individual engaging with multiple online services, its likely that the value of your information and networks could accumulate to anywhere between $400 - $700 in the eyes of data brokers and advertising agencies, based on individual enterprise definitions of 'Active User' and Average profiling. Though these figures provide a rough guideline to position oneself in the chaos of it all, they do not reflect the dynamics or personal differences that could greatly influence your attractiveness to prospective marketers and data brokers, because YOU are not exactly 'average'.So where does this leave the rest of us? So much for a democratic free social world wide web that encompassed ideals of egalitarianism and universal interconnectedness! I’ve been robbed!

Turns out there is no piñata, or perhaps no stick.

Until a real competitor for user centric autonomy in the data mining business appears, the only given alternative is simply to share less data. The more you reveal, the easier you are to categorise, and if you are easy to categorise, you're easy to sell. Unfortunately for the less celibate social media users like myself, this is tough medicine to swallow.What became clear to me is that the value that most 'engaged' social media users generate for these enterprises is most definitely not 'average'. After all it's what makes us unique that makes us most valuable.

Aviva Killian
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