Sisters Talking On…Getting Paid for Your Data

Point for Discussion:

Social media is a double-edged sword.  It enables friends and family to keep in touch, businesses to get the word out, help us find specifically what we want to buy in minutes, and so much more.  The same technology and tools also enable, not only the negative side of things (e.g., knock-offs, bullying, hate, etc.), but also infringe on our privacy, as our data is used in ways that many of us have not technically “opted in” for.  Frankly, we don’t know how our data is being used.  While we are not able to control all of it, shouldn’t we at least get paid for being an online user/subscriber and get paid for what is shared about us online?

Our Points of View:


Social media has been monetizing our data for more than a decade.  We’ve made it relatively easy – we shop, we search, we play games – our behavior, all of which is stored in cookies or in other ways, is used by the social media company and their 3rd party partners – whether we like it or not, and whether we try to protect ourselves or not.  With this as the reality, how can WE monetize the data that we are sharing, while also getting better control over our online presence?

I see two buckets of data that are available about each of us online:

  1. Data that we willingly post
  2. Data that is unknowingly or unwittingly shared from our online behavior

Data that we are willingly posting through our behavior is expansive, if we think about it.

  • Shopping behavior (e.g., Amazon let’s us know when it’s time to “Buy it Again”)
  • Profiling ourselves in words and pictures (e.g., keeping up with our fans on Facebook)
  • Gaming (e.g., downloading apps so other “like” games can be promoted to us J)
  • And more (which each of us does know about, and we’re ok with that)

Data that we are not/may not be intending to share is also expansive:

  • Searches on topics that are important to us (but not anyone else’s business)
  • Researching medical conditions, for example (which should be private)
  • Private conversations or commentary (which should not be accessible to potential employers)
  • Ancestry/DNA (which should be private)
  • Location (should only be used by us for navigation purposes)
  • Our call history
  • And so much more (we don’t even know about, which is the point)

We should be paid for both sets of data:

  • Data we willingly post that helps the social media platforms sell advertising and make money for every click or each time someone views their ads
  • Data we are not intending to share, but it is shared, and we should be paid something for our data that is also used by others to generate revenue

How might this ideally work?

  • We would specify to a central company (or transparent clearinghouse), which categories of data we are willing to share (e.g., shopping, searches, gaming, etc.). Since we would be “checking the boxes,” we would be making our intentions clear.  Within the categories, we could choose which variables to share (e.g., just my behavior – to be aggregated with others, and not who I am vs. a profile of myself).


  • We would need to specify the period of time for this permission being granted. It’s not acceptable to assume that our data “is out there” forever.  There must be technology innovation to make this controllable.  And within this context, we should also be able to “opt out” for any future data collection from “all” or a subset.


  • We would be able to specify the amount we want to be paid based on the depth of detail we are willing to share, which would be standardized and enforced.


  • Importantly, we would specify the type of companies (or specific companies) we are willing to share our data with (and they must be clear on how they will be using our data). This just makes good business sense.


  • This could be part of the sign-up process with a social media company (e.g., tell us your name, address, email, which data we can use and how, and how you would like to be paid).


  • And because we would not likely trust how our data is being used, and we wouldn’t want to provide access to personal accounts to receive our payment (for fear of a data breach or data misuse), a new clearinghouse for payments would be required that we could access in an encrypted way and receive payment, whether we opt for gift cards or cash (…if Bitcoin can do it…).

Sound far-fetched?  Not really.  Here are just some recent examples:

  • My husband found a company online called Datacoup (sounds appropriate) that you can join where they will bring your data together from across many platforms. This suggests that an individual can indeed be identified and communicated with – and paid.  I must say that the terms of joining are quite scary, and if you do opt out later, your data stays out in cyberspace.


  • There are also apps that encourage you to sign up, play games and get paid in gift cards.


  • Lynn mentions eBates, which pays you for shopping through them (as many others do).


For honorable companies, a fee structure could be implemented that abides by our requests.  In light of the fact that many companies would still be unlikely to disclose that they have captured our data and intend to use it (and how), they should pay a fee to each person in their database.  The same bright minds that have developed the technology that makes using our data feasible, can certainly figure out a way to pay every person in their database a royalty for using their data.



Constitutionally, as Americans, we have the right to privacy.  That should, in all cases, include the data related to our internet searches and shopping.  Unless we’ve used the internet illegally or to commit a crime, our activity should be no one’s business but our own.

Too bad that no longer seems to apply.  Our internet activity is captured, tracked and, in my humble opinion, sold to the highest bidder so that we can be harassed by advertisements on every page we visit. Laurie seems to be of the opinion that this may be okay as long as we are compensated in some way for the use of this data.

Data tracking did not start with the internet.  All of those “savings” cards we have in our wallets and on our key rings have allowed retailers to track our purchases for decades.  In theory, we receive compensation for that in the form of coupons and discounts specifically tailored to our purchasing preferences.  So compensation for using our data isn’t new.  It’s just a question of how to define the value of that information.

What’s that information really worth?  Datacoup is trying to establish a market for this.  For now, they are compensating individuals at rates based on their internal algorithm.  This is all experimental in anticipation of a market they believe will exist in the future.

We need to remind ourselves that these advertisers are replacing print ads with ads online.  Print ads were placed in publications based on the demographics of subscribers and target audiences.  This may or may not have been overly effective.  We’ll never know, but given the shift away from print ads, I’m guessing it wasn’t as effective as desired.  So now firms are purchasing data to support more targeted advertising in the hope that the returns will be higher.

From a personal perspective, I look up a lot of things online.  I could be learning about something or looking to purchase an item.  What I don’t appreciate is that if I look up patio furniture today, I will be seeing ads for patio furniture on every page I look at for the next few months.  I’m pretty sure I don’t want to see those ads on every page I visit for the foreseeable future.

 In general, my purchasing history, excluding personal information, can be captured without my consent.  I agree to that when I purchase things online.  And since this is not necessarily trackable directly to me, compensating me for it doesn’t make any more sense than targeting ads to me because I purchased a specific publication at the store to give to someone else.

Like almost anyone else, I would love a way to make money without having to do much for it. The real question is how to value data.  Is there value to the information?  Maybe.  Is it real compensable value or more like cyber value which is not easily defined?  And then from a practical perspective, who is going to do the bookkeeping for all of this?

Laurie says two things I find very interesting.  First, and in my mind foremost, she recognizes that companies involved in this process will need to behave honorably. Very true.  In this century, that’s pretty hard to come by when we talk about cyberspace.  Hackers devote their energy to finding ways to get past firewalls and encryption with moderate success.  For this to really work, we would need laws and regulations to keep the “honorable” companies honest.  Second, Laurie suggests that part of our agreement for compensation would allow us to fix the amount of time our data could be used in exchange for this benefit.  I find this problematic.  My understanding is that any information in cyberspace is available FOREVER!  I know many people pull back things that should not have been posted to begin with, but how do we know that this information has not been intercepted by unscrupulous people to be used later for blackmail, extortion or worse?  Do I sound distrusting of the internet?  As it relates to my personal data, yep, guilty as charged.

Laurie also talks about data clearinghouses.  I agree that this type of arrangement could be useful for managing all of this. Especially if we are individually selling our data to multiple firms.  As I write this, eBates comes to mind as a similar type organization.  Companies issue rebates to purchasers for shopping at their online stores through the eBates platform and shoppers get rebates cleared through a single site.  Shoppers are providing shopping habit information in exchange for rebates received.  EBates is the clearinghouse in this situation and it seems to work.  But what if we took this mechanism and expanded it 10 fold, 100 fold, or greater?  Could this work?  Or would there be new issues created by the size of the clearinghouse?  I suppose we’ll find out if, in fact, there is a push toward paying each of us for our data.

I can’t help but come back to the security of our personal data.  Weekly, we hear about Facebook data showing up in places where it should not be found.  These holes need to be closed up before anything like this could be feasible.

While I applaud those working toward making this a reality, I wonder if there is enough clearly definable value to support the efforts.

Our Question for You:

What data would you be willing to share, if you were paid for your data?

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