A Blog by Jonathan Low


Aug 23, 2013

Would You Like to Buy My Data?

Why are you just giving it away? No, not that. We mean your personal data. 

The question is an increasingly common one as people begin to see the profits, however meager, that corporations derive from information about their habits, inclinations, likes, dislikes, activities and interests.

College athletes, who are ostensibly amateurs, are suing video game makers for financial recompense due to the manufacturers' 'unauthorized' - which, freely translated, means uncompensated use - of their personal images. Retired athletes are now getting into the spirit by suing anyone who has used 'unauthorized' photos, film and video of them.

So why not you?

Herewith is an explanation of how the value proposition, as your personal marketer might term it, could be constructed so that you capture the optimal past, present and future benefits of your contacts, activities, thoughts, dreams, pets, aspirations, progeny, lite beer and breakfast cereal choices for eternity. JL

David Auerbach comments in Slate:
Hey Facebook, LinkedIn, Foursquare—act quickly, because this offer won't last!
Dear Lords of Internet Commerce,
Forgive me, for I have sinned. I have used Internet services without paying my share—that is, without allowing you to extract your fair share from me, in the form of my data. I have stubbornly withheld even the most basic information about myself. I have used ad blockers, so I have not seen an Internet advertisement in ages. I have been secretive and selfish, a blood-sucking parasite clinging to the majestic beast of Internet commerce. Facebook, LinkedIn, FourSquare—I am sorry.
As penance (and with a nod to Joseph Turow’s The Daily You), I would like to extend to you a special opportunity. With this one-time-only offer, you can bid on my personal data. I am auctioning off my demographic information, my tastes in media, and much more. So when you finally lock down the platforms to abolish ad blockers once and for all, you will be ready. Ready to target me.

I calculated starting bids for each category of my information based on market capitalizations of leading companies who hold that type of information (i) on millions of consumers. I have divided market cap (MC) by the respective company’s number of consumer profiles (P), then applied two multipliers:
1)  Desirable demographic multiplier (D): 4x. In the words of Homer Simpson, “I'm a white male, age 18 to 49. Everyone listens to me, no matter how dumb my suggestions are.” And those opinions can be awfully dumb indeed if, thanks to an unprecedented 34 years of growing inequality and wage stagnation, your household income is over double the national average.
2)  Psychographic multiplier (1/U): 5x. This information—which encompasses not just my gender, age, and income level but my personal tastes, values, and opinions—is far more specific and accurate than what most companies possess enabling far more unique identification and targeting. To hear your PR reps tell it, psychographic targeting is the key to the next advertising revolution, promising far better click-through rates. A 5x multiplier may seem generous, but to read the hype around psychographics, you get 5x as many click-throughs from even the most minimal demographic information. And remember: The more you buy, the more you know!
Remember: no refunds.
I will begin with the basics before going into more specialized (and lucrative) information.
My Work History
Despite what my Facebook profile may say, I have never worked for Dewey, Cheatham, and Howe or Winkum, Blinkum, and Nod. Sorry, I lied. My real employment history can be yours, starting at $6,200. (Price basis: LinkedIn’s $31 billion market cap and 100 million active users.)
Popular Stuff I Like
It must be frustrating for your affinity algorithms to look at my interests page and only see post-punk and experimental musicians on tiny labels who don’t buy advertising. Surely I watch some blockbuster movies and not just the works of Ulrich Seidl and Shohei Imamura? Maybe I sneak pages of Fifty Shades of Grey in between Sophocles and James Joyce? Surely I buy clothes? It’s true: I have deliberately avoided listing any of my mainstream tastes in my profiles. (No, my favorite movie is not The Day the Clown Cried.) If you’re sick of being unable to microtarget someone whose only television consumption appears to be 12 oz. Mouse, all shall be revealed to you, starting from $11,000. (Price basis: Facebook’s $110 billion market cap and 200 million daily users.)
Special Judas Offer! I will provide info on any friend of mine on whom you lack information. Starting bid per friend is also $11,000. (I don’t want to hurt their feelings by pricing them lower than me.)
My Political Views
Am I conservative or liberal? If you don’t already know, you need a better data-mining department. (Check the FEC contribution database.) But what do I believe? Am I a libertarian? An anarchist? A Marxist? A neoliberal? Do I care more about the environment or guns? I will tell you whatever you want to know, starting at $200. Note: I do in fact vote, so I’ve added a 100 percent premium here, since only half of Americans vote. (Price basis: Obama campaign spending $10 per vote in 2012.)
Special secret offer! It is illegal to sell one’s vote, but since one vote does not make a difference, I promise to strongly consider your opinion on a single race or ballot measure for $500 and up. (Moral pollution surcharge has been added.)
Where I Go
I’ve locked down all the geolocation features on my phone so that no apps ever see where I am, and I don’t ever check in to the places that I go. I have no interest in being the Mayor of Urban Outfitters or some microbrewery. But I promise to keep you occasionally apprised of my whereabouts for $500 and up. If you want full-on location data from my phone and regular check-ins from every location I visit, the starting bid is $50,000. Quality data costs quality money. (Price basis: Foursquare’s $800 million valuation and 30 million users.)
Do I download media off the Internet? Is any of it copyrighted by corporations with big lawyers? I’m not telling.
This one is not an auction. For a set price, I will tell you the name of a single work whose copyright I have infringed upon (if such a work indeed exists). The offer stands as long as I have remaining works to reveal, whether it’s 0 or 1 million. I make no guarantees that the copyright owner will give a damn. If I tell you that I have infringed on 1986 Soviet cult classic Kin-dza-dza, and you were hoping that I’d downloaded The Hangover Part III, tough. You pays your money and you takes your chances.
Price basis: For my own protection, the price has been set to the maximum possible liability in the United States for a single act of copyright infringement: $150,000. Act now while supplies last!
All the secrets of my soul, hidden in the double helix of my DNA! Can your geneticists ferret them out? Sequence me, see how much Neanderthal is in me (surprisingly high!), and even clone me! Find out what crazy stuff lurks in my chromosomes, starting at $1,000,000.
Price basis: As genetic information is still something of a speculative market, I have here simply matched the price actor Vincent Gallo has asked for his DNA. Since I believe my DNA to be of equal or greater value to Mr. Gallo’s—admittedly not a high bar—using his price seems more than fair.
And Finally, My Firstborn
I have a child. I know a lot about this child. I will provide any of the above information on my child for 10 times the respective price above, which should be enough to reverse the moral corrosion of my soul. You’ll eventually get all this information from this child anyway, so why shouldn’t I cash in on it now?


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