Jul 11, 2018

Two startups paying you for your data

At work. Photo: Chris Jackson/Getty

Last week, we discussed who gets the profit from your web-surfing data habits. As of now, it's big tech companies like Facebook and Google, who get it free in exchange for providing free search and friendship services.

But two readers responded by describing current startups that attempt to steer the money instead to the people doing the surfing.

How they work: The thing about data — meaning the history of your travails around the Internet — is that scale is super-important. Data is almost never valuable on an individual level.

Companies like Facebook and China's Alibaba are powerful because they marshal the data of hundreds of millions of people, and isolate it in endless ways to suit the marketing requirements of any client on the planet.

This means that, while it's great to allow people to opt out of the use of their data in ways of which they do not approve — the current wave — it's not practical for any individual to try to actually sell his or her own data.

  • You still need someone who aggregates it with a ton of other people, then offers it up to advertisers, people looking to swing elections, and other customers.
  • That's where the startups come in: Datawallet and Wibson, two data marketing platforms.
  • Wibson's CEO, Mat Travizano, says the current value of a person's data for digital ads is about $240 a year.
  • Alex Yergin, vice president for business development at Datawallet, says you start by downloading your data from Facebook, Amazon, Uber or any other big platform.
  • With that in hand, Datawallet aggregates your data with its other users'.
  • Then it looks for clients seeking insights into trends and to target certain types of people for their products.

All of this happens using blockchain, which works to protect your stuff, Yergin said.

To the degree that businesses like Datawallet scale up, they challenge the business models of the big platforms. "We are trying to break down walled gardens, and Facebook is a walled garden," Yergin said. "We are trying to disrupt the whole data ecosystem."

  • Travizano, who's launching his platform in August, says selling your data is a "new human right."
  • In one option, you are asked for consent any time a client wants to buy an aggregation of data that includes yours. Or you can consent in advance to the type of client that suits you.
  • Wibson says blockchain is what has made such businesses attractive now, since it means your data doesn't have to be centralized in one place, leaving it vulnerable to hacking.

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