Your personal information -- what sites you browse, what stuff you buy and what you do in your spare time -- is black gold, version 2.0.
So says Michael Fertik, CEO of Reputation.com, an online reputation manager, who calls users' online data the “new oil.”
Multibillion dollar industries, from search engines to social networking, have been built on the aggregation of personal data, information the World Economic Forum likens to a “new type of raw material … on par with capital and labor.” Companies are monetizing users’ clicks, status updates and emails -- so how about a cut for the users themselves?
According to Fertik, individuals should be able to charge companies to collect and use data about their online activity, which most sites currently acquire for free, then use to serve up targeted ads and other personalized content.
Though details on the technical specifics and feasibility such a plan are still quite slim, Fertik, an online-privacy proponent, suggests that the future could see the creation of digital personal data vaults that companies would have to pay to access. Users would, theoretically, be able to control who uses their personal information, and could also be compensated for allowing businesses to tap into their data.
“Imagine an even better world in which we provide for you a data privacy vault and you put all the data into that vault. Every time someone wants to get access to it they pay you for it,” said Fertik. “You actually get to benefit from the fact that your data is the new oil and you get paid for the mining of your data. That’s an easily achievable world from a technical perspective, it just requires true grit.”
The WEF has outlined a similar mechanism by which individuals could be compensated by companies that use their data, deemed the “new economic ‘asset class.’"
“In practical terms, a person’s data would be equivalent to their ‘money,’” wrote the WEF in its “Personal Data” report. “It would reside in an account where it would be controlled, managed, exchanged and accounted for just like personal banking services operate today.”
Yet the Internet-wide information vault Fertik describes faces major technical and economic hurdles that could delay and even derail its implementation.
Internet companies are not likely to immediately embrace such a proposal, which would require them to pay for data they can currently collect for free (or close to it). There’s also the issue that personal information is currently scattered throughout the Internet, not neatly sequestered in a single place just waiting for a personal-data paywall to be put into place. And firms that rely on compiling information about their customers to deliver targeted ads, which generate more revenue than generic marketing, might also counter that offering their services and content for free requires their unfettered access to users’ messages, browsing habits and check-ins.
Perhaps users will take matters into their own hands and push back on sites’ prying eyes by restricting the information they share with the web. Though social-media services are pushing users to share more and share more widely, Fertik says he has observed some people becoming more reluctant to divulge all online.
“Human adaptation is happening,” Fertik said. “Certain cohorts are starting to share a lot less on social networks, partly because they’re bored and partly because they feel the eyeball bleed is too much, there’s too much sharing.”
Video by The Huffington Post's Hunter Stuart