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Alice Liogier wants to slap a price on her data.
The 23-year-old graduate student from Paris is researching the commercial use of personal information in the age of big data and she’s reached a controversial conclusion: If people really do own their data, then they should be allowed to sell it.
Regulators from Brussels to Beijing are trying to curb the use of personal information and many Facebook users have been reviewing their privacy settings in recent weeks in response to the Cambridge Analytica scandal. But Liogier argues that entrepreneurs, officials and executives who want to get to grips with the next phase of the big data era need to look further.
It’s not about privacy, she says, it’s about ownership and control.
“The debate right now is focused on data protection and privacy — that’s where fears have crystallized,” Liogier says. “But selling data and data ownership is the next big topic, and probably the most important topic.”
Consumers around the world are waking up to the fact that Facebook and Google’s online empires are built on data they signed away without any monetary compensation. The next step will be thinking about the alternatives, argues Liogier, who defended her masters thesis at Sciences Po in Paris last month and will start a management consulting job after the summer.
Real data ownership will mean having all your information from political ideas, to skin-care preferences and medical records in one place so you can decide who gets to access it and on what terms. That could mean selling it, granting limited use in exchange for a service (like Facebook), or simply keeping it private. The point is to have control.
As part of this trend, Facebook is considering offering an ad-free version of its service to clients who are willing to pay.
This is not just about reining in creepy ads. The ability to process vast amounts of personal data promises to change our relationships, our governments and even our bodies — not to mention, of course, our shopping habits.
Netflix is already using client data to shape TV shows and soon intelligent cars could alert highway operators to holes in the road, or trigger different billboard ads for drivers listening to country music or hip hop. A Cambridge University study famously found that after 300 likes Facebook knows more about your personality than your spouse.
How we deal with that new power is a cultural as much as a regulatory challenge. A younger generation of consumers and an older cohort of officials are wrestling with it already. Regulators in Europe may shape the approach of U.S. tech giants, just as European entrepreneurs may pick up on U.S. trends.
Looming over both is the Chinese market of 1.4 billion increasingly internet savvy people. They are still fenced in by government restrictions for now, but they constitute the ultimate source of big data for businesses.
At the moment, less than one in six people said they’d be likely to sell their data in a global survey of consumer attitudes published by ForgeRock in March. But the more knowledgeable people were about their data privacy rights, the likelier they were to consider it, the survey showed.
The next generation of tech companies are already developing the models that will start to allow users to do that.
London-based startup People.io is paying consumers for data in order to send them more targeted advertising. Former Cambridge Analytica executive Brittany Kaiser in April joined IOVO in New York which uses blockchain technology to store consumers’ data and let them sell it to advertisers.
Parisian think tank GenerationLibre as well as U.S. teams at Stanford and Columbia universities are working to develop a valuation model that would allow people to price their information.