Our future should be one where we sell our data

In an age where data is money and we have no choice but to give it in order to participate in the modern economy, it’s about time we worked out who owns what. Call me a technology utopian, but here is my starting point:

All data put in a web platform by an end user should be owned and controlled by those who created the data via their content. People should be able to see all information that any digital company, for example GAFA collects and sells about them, at a point in time, on demand.

What we need to do is actually quite simple and it starts with two things people need to know:

  1. Their data has significant commercial value.
  2. If enough people demand it, the laws will change in their favour.

Yep, everything we need to know about modern politics is that the voting machine is a popularity contest not too dissimilar from high school. The most popular idea wins.

If it becomes part of the internet narrative that data about individuals is valuable and they deserve to ‘own’ it and make money from it, the status quo could change very quickly. Now, I don’t think we could motivate enough people to push for this change through the political process, but I do believe that some savvy technology entrepreneurs could do the job. What we need is a reversal of the current process, so here’s a thought experiment:

Current Situation: Based on our internet behaviours in search, social content, pages visited, geolocation and other web based activities, AI predicts the probability that we are in a particular market to purchase something or act a certain way. This information is aggregated and sold to advertisers looking to win that future purchase.

Zuckerberg Modern Big Brother

Proposed Startup: Based on our actual intentions, we register our desire on site X to purchase from category Y. Let’s imagine you’re in the market for home loan. Your data is released to prospects who pay for the right to access your information. The creator and ‘owner’ of the data is paid by companies who want to sell to you – for the opportunity to access your digital truth. But in this instance, it’s not a crapshoot of demographics, or behaviour patterns and metadata which might capture 1 in 100 people who are ‘actually’ in the market. Rather, it’s brands buying the opportunity to sell and competing to sell why they are better than their competitors. They get direct access to real prospects ready to spend their money.

For all I know, this could already exist?

This wouldn’t work in every category and it wouldn’t help brands who rely on impulse purchases or those with low price points. But if we want the internet to be permission-based, remove the scourge that is data pimping and empower the people trying to connect on the web, then we need this reversal. There may be some other solution, but now that the data and tracking genie is out of the bottle, at some point the current asymmetry of the internet needs to be rebalanced or the egalitarian dream might just turn into a nightmare.