A Penny For Your Thoughts—And Purchase History

What if you could sell your own data instead of social media giants monetizing it for themselves?

Consumers know social media giants are selling their personal information for profit. And many have wondered why, if their information is so valuable, they can’t get paid for it directly.

But a small revolt is underway. A drive to claim the value of data from online “services” like social media has taken root over the past couple of years. Start-ups like DataCoup, Dawex, World Quant and others are buying the right to access personal data directly from private individuals, and act as middlemen to broker the information to advertisers.

“There have been attempts to create intermediate companies to broker personal data,” Dr. Gregory Piatetsky-Shapiro, an expert in data science who runs a popular tech website called KDNuggets.com, sys. “There are some companies that try to help people sell their personal data explicitly and get users some revenue, but they have not been very successful.”

That may be because customers are typically paid in cryptocurrency tokens, and it takes a lot of tokens to make real money. Take the DataCoup app, for example, currently in beta testing. Sign up and you can choose to sell information from any of your credit or debit cards, your Facebook page or any other social media feed, in any combination. Buyers then make you an offer for access to the data. At present, the buyer is DataCoup itself as it builds an inaugural data set big enough to prove its value to advertisers, and it pays a dollar or two per week.

Whether direct data sales improve privacy or economic balance may depend on making the right decisions on what to sell and for how much—and that’s a huge challenge given the scale, according to Dr. Monica Rogati, a data-science executive.

“In practice, the time, effort and cognitive load required to make these decisions in an informed way is simply too high, especially considering the low payoff,” she explains. So for now, you won’t get rich selling your Google searches, but you’ll be ahead of the curve.