A Blog by Jonathan Low

 

Jun 30, 2019

How We Already Know What Our Data Is Worth

People dont just measure it in monetary terms, but in how it affects their lives and the way they live. JL


Colin Horgan reports in Medium:

Ads shown to people who’d opted out of behavior targeting were worth 52% less than those for users who allowed behavioral targeting. Overall, they found that in 2015, opt-out via the AdChoices program resulted in a loss of $5.7 million in the U.S. desktop display ad market — or about $8.58 per person who opted out. But if users somehow discovered their data was only worth a few dollars, how would that deal look? Most people would conclude that the services to network with friends and family, travel more conveniently, or find a cheaper place to stay when traveling are worth more than the data they’ve had to share to use them.
U.S. Senators Mark Warner and Josh Hawley introduced what they’re calling the Designing Accounting Safeguards to Help Broader Oversight and Regulations on Data (or DASHBOARD) Act. The bill aims to do three main things: require tech companies to regularly disclose to users how their personal data are being used, which third parties that data is being shared with, and the value of the data people provide to platforms.
The final aspect of the bill is the one that’s generating headlines. That’s intentional — it’s even highlighted in bold in the bill’s one-page summary. But what would happen if we put a price on data?
To be clear, for Warner and Hawley, clarifying this monetary value isn’t about people getting paid for their data. As they outline, the purpose of disclosing the “true value” of data would be to provide transparency for users and increase competition in the sector. Most importantly, it would “assist antitrust enforcers in identifying unfair transactions and anticompetitive transactions and practices.” That monetary value might also mean that if someone’s data is abused, “consumers have an injury to seek damages against,” David Carroll, the professor who launched a court challenge to reclaim his data from Cambridge Analytica, tweeted Monday.
Opening an avenue for legal redress against technology companies could change how they distribute or share data, but for most people, what would seeing the value of their personal data really mean? Having that perspective could open a new line of sight into the world beyond our screens, but it would do little to solve the bigger problem: ending the invasive business practices of the major tech platforms. In fact, it might end up making things worse.
Let’s start with what our data is worth in dollars to a tech platform. Warner and Hawley’s bill tasks the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) with developing a way to accurately quantify it, but until the SEC does that, all we can really do is guess. Arriving at a firm number isn’t easy, nor perhaps even that useful, given data is really only worth a lot to companies in aggregate, not individually. Still, various attempts have been made to calculate a per-person tally.
A few years ago, the Financial Times created a tool that calculated the value of someone’s data “based on the analysis of industry pricing data from a range of sources in the U.S.” After answering some general yes/no questions, the FT’s calculator suggests my data, for example, might be worth about 17 cents.
That seems a tad low — and it might be. More recently, a team of researchers examined how much revenue was lost when consumers chose to opt-out of behavioral advertising via the AdChoices program. Opting-out via AdChoices still meant that people saw ads, just not ads based on their prior browsing. Based on access to an ad exchange, they found that ads shown to people who’d opted out of behavior targeting were worth 52% less than those for users who allowed behavioral targeting. Overall, they found that in 2015, opt-out via the AdChoices program resulted in a loss of $5.7 million in the U.S. desktop display ad market — or about $8.58 per person who opted out.
In trying to get people to recognize the high value of their personal data, the Dashboard Act will likely only cheapen it.
Those are two very different numbers, and ending the ambiguity over which one is closer would be nice, but what would it really accomplish?
In their summary of the bill, Warner and Hawley note that “as predictive analytics and machine learning permeates ever-greater parts of our digital economy, user data serves as the key enabler for an enormous range of products and services… Customers have consistently been told that these services are ‘free.’ Yet the current lack of transparency impedes consumers’ ability to fully understand the terms of the exchange and decide for themselves whether they are getting a fair deal from the platform companies that monetize their data.”
But if users somehow discovered their data was only worth a few dollars, how would that deal look? Probably, most people would conclude that the services that allow them to network with friends and family, travel more conveniently, or find a cheaper place to stay when traveling are worth significantly more than the data they’ve had to share to use them. The deal would seem better than fair. In trying to get people to recognize the high value of their personal data, the Dashboard Act will likely only cheapen it. We might be even more likely to give it away for free, and even more likely to stay on the platforms.
It’s enticing to think we might be able to peer past our screens into the inner workings of the tech giants and see, finally, how much we’re really worth to them. Except our worth isn’t necessarily about money — it’s about our continued participation in the ad-driven platform economy, and fulfilling the tautology that underpins it: That the more we’re there, the more we’ll be there.
This is the cycle we need to break. But the Dashboard Act won’t help to do that. While it tries to give us power over the major data-driven tech companies by way of transparency, its good intentions pave a road that leads in exactly the opposite direction.

1 comments:

Unknown said...

I don't wear clothes with logos (unless my wife bought them for me) because I feel that if a company wants to use me as a walking billboard, they should pay me.

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