The Data-Ing Game: The Value Placed On Our Own Data; How Socio-Economics Play A Part And How Our App Will Help Educate Users On The Current Worth Of Data In The Market

On: October 25, 2017
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About Krista Agbayani


   

Our project aimed to design an app called ‘The Data-ing Game’ that would educate people on the value of their data. Not many realised the valuable commodity that their own personal data has become*. We aimed to distinguish whether gender, age and education change the perception of individual value on personal data through a small scale collection poll and results. Due to the timeframe of the project, we elected to focus on a poll to derive our findings, as building an app algorithm in this period would be impossible. We did create and design a wireframe of the app that can be scrolled through at the bottom of the blog. Throughout our project we were struck numerous times by how little people knew about data brokers and how much information these companies possessed.

The Data Broker Industry

The main focus on our app is to educate in regards to data and data brokers and to personally see if elements such as gender, age and race play a role in how much a user values their data; whether it be at a premium price, or towards the more accurate figure of less than a cent (“Financial worth of data comes in at under a penny a piece’’). Polls taken by Western Digital, a digital storage company in 2015 that found that in a study of 5,000 internet consumers, the average user valued their personal data at  £3,241 (Steel, “How much is your personal data worth?”). An Orange study also echoes this finding. In 2014 the company found that internet consumers value their personal data at €170 / £140 (“Consumers value their personal data at €170 / £140, Orange study finds”), with variants given depending on the privacy or whether they know the company they have agreed to share their details with. This became an important springboard for us, as the Orange Study showed that while people were aware their data was being taken and was valued and sold on by companies, most had little to know idea about data brokers, as shown through increased governmental studies and reports intended to educate the average internet consumer (“Congressional Testimony: What Information Do Data Brokers Have on Consumers?”) that their data was being clustered together with other similar users and sold on to targeted advertisers. Our project came across similar findings that active internet users, while educated on many of the major aspects of web education remain clueless and somewhat in the dark regarding the collection and selling on of their personal data that is scraped from their website interaction, public records and internet browsing history, and subsequently sold on to data brokers.

The most interaction a user will usually have with these companies are through the personalised tampon advertisements just before that time of the month or concert tickets to the artist they just finished streaming on Spotify (“A Review of the Data Broker Industry: Collection, Use, and Sale of Consumer Data for Marketing Purposes”). Data brokers would prefer if users were majoritively kept in the dark about their work as gathering passive information from people who share information without thinking is where they thrive (“A Review of the Data Broker Industry: Collection, Use, and Sale of Consumer Data for Marketing Purposes”). At their core, data brokers act as collectors and amassers of individual data, from public records to user-contributed data on our Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin. Most also have access to users web browsing history (“What Information Do Data Brokers Have on Consumers, and How Do They Use It?”), these go on to create ‘fingerprints’ of customers (Turow, 5).

All of these million facets of data come together to create a Sartrean profile that provides the essence of a user’s existence, coming together in what Dixon refers to as user ‘clusters’ (“What Information Do Data Brokers Have on Consumers, and How Do They Use It?”). Data brokers sell on huge quantities of these specialised profiles for targeted advertisements to ensure the most hits and clicks on their site. Data brokers bundle these users up and sell them on to third party advertising companies (“A Review of the Data Broker Industry: Collection, Use, and Sale of Consumer Data for Marketing Purposes”). The same report from the Committee on Science, Transport and Commerce noted that data brokers are perhaps most interested in the socio-economic state of the consumer clusters, with certain clusters for sale “carrying titles such as ‘Rural and Barely Making It,’ ‘Ethnic Second-City Strugglers,’ ‘Retiring on Empty: Singles,’ ‘Tough Start: Young Single Parents,’ and ‘Credit Crunched: City Families.’”. This all comes together under our project aim that those from a  certain socio-economic background are worth more to data brokers without realising it.

Lower-income families, according to the report will often make riskier financial decisions, due to their need of requiring quick cash and possessing a lack of savings. This again piqued our interest, due to just how targeted the advertising to these users are, and how the report notes that consumers had no way of knowing which cluster they had been placed in and could not dispute the advertising targeted at them. A plethora of advertisers, marketers, and other related industries have been analyzing user activities, backgrounds, and motivations. This all goes on to dictate the media content each person encounters. The advertising and data brokering system is the foundation upon which these practices are built, reconfiguring how companies are able to reach audiences. Advertisers expect media firms to deliver them data that is more and more compartmentalized and guaranteed (Turow, 3-5).

Transparency is key

Pam Dixon, the Executive Director of the World Privacy Forum presented a report to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation about data brokers in 2013. This report was intended to be an evaluation of what data brokers were and how they were influencing internet usage in the Western world. One of the major concerns cited by Dixon was: “I do not know of a single company that allows consumers to view the clusters they are put in. I do not know of a single data broker that will allow consumers to permanently opt out of the cluster definitions attached to them.” (Dixon, What Information Do Data Brokers Have on Consumers, and How Do They Use It?). A report from the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) called for ‘Transparency and Accountability’ from nine data broker companies to release their information and increase awareness to users about their existence.

Wireframe of the group’s “The Data-ing Game”

 

Our app, The Data-ing Game, aims to provide users with approximate estimations of the monetary value of their data, thereby educating them on the worth of certain data in the current market. This will conceivably make them wary of sharing certain personal information online and hopefully have a knock on effect of the user sharing the app with friends, thus increasing awareness through word of mouth. We recognize that this is not a long-term solution to the issue of data-mining and trade, but raising accessibility of information regarding data might kickstart various other projects to tackle this obstacle, on local and national levels. We calculated the value and current market price of our data based on the Financial Times calculator that we felt had a reputable position and also provided information on how they themselves had collected the data beneath the calculator. It was also regularly updated to match current values and rates. We also found that many of the other articles we researched from The Guardian to the Telegraph all cited back to this particular calculator, so we took it as a well-circulated indicator. This is obviously not a completely watertight assessment of how much data is comprehensively worth, but it was the closest and clearest calculator we came across that was reliable. Our main goal was to estimate the disparity between socioeconomic factors and the actual value of data. We decided to do this through a Google poll to get the easiest and quickest access to results.

Our Research

In order to comprehend the extent to which users are disconnected with information about the value of data, we conducted a Google poll which was then shared by each member on their respective Facebook accounts. The poll consisted of questions regarding age, sexuality, ethnicity, and the monetary value of data. We considered it appropriate to not provide any numerical ranges for the latter, as we did not want to limit people in their predictions. At the end of our poll, we also linked our poll-takers to the Financial Times calculator to disclose the actual value of their data. This was also important for us as education would be the ultimate goal of our app.

It is important to note that our poll is not indicative of a pattern or general trend about the valuation of data among people. The results are subjective to our immediate communities and therefore should be treated lightly. There is an inequality in gender, age, and ethnicity among our poll-takers, and therefore the information cannot be applied as fact. Our aim with doing the poll was simply to gain some additional perspective on whether previous research, such as the 2015 survey from Western Digital aligned with our own findings.

A total of ninety-six responses was accumulated; with sixty-three female, thirty-two male, and one non-binary answers. The smallest value was 0 euros, while the largest was 1 million euros. Most people, over fifty percent, believe that their data is worth more than 100 euros, women were more inclined to this belief than men. Meanwhile, forty percent of poll-takers estimated their data to be less than 20 euros. Surprisingly, not a single person valued their data at 51 to 99 euros. This disparity is highly congruent with previous research that demonstrates the lack of knowledge that internet users have about the value of their data. Either people highly overestimate their data or they place it at a low value, but still not as low as the data brokers’ price point.

 

The chart indicates the amount at which the poll-takers placed the value of their data

We included various factors such as ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation to assess whether they play a crucial role in one’s valuing of data. We observed that, by and large, the poll-takers were White/Caucasian/European, with some Asian, Latino, and Mixed-race, and none Black. This can of course be attributed to our own backgrounds and whom we are friends with on Facebook. Additionally, women had a tendency to overestimate their value more than men, which countered previous research that determined that men were the ones who overestimate (Curtis, “How much is your personal data worth?”).

While comparing the results of media studies students to those without an academic media background, we found that all of the former estimated their worth to be under 5000 euros, with sixty percent answering under 20 euros. Only under forty percent of the takers without a media background estimated their value to be under 20 euros. One such poll-taker, Greek and belonging to the 21-39 age demographic, made the following observation, “If you consider that these corporations are valued for plenty of billions of dollars, although I couldn’t guess an exact amount, I would say a lot. Surely above some dozens thousands of euros.” Such remarks are present throughout the poll, with others commenting “I hope a lot” and “Very much”. These results, on the one hand, indicate that media students seem to be more informed about the actual value of their data compared to others. However, on the other hand, sixty percent does not seem to be too high of a percentage, and most still placed their worth in the 10’s, which then demonstrates that even media students are largely unaware of their actual monetary value in the data market.

When analyzing the data, we found that age seemed to have no real impact on the answers given. We also wanted to refrain from making conclusions based on age as only eight percent of our poll-takers ranged from 15-20 years old, two percent were 40+, and the remaining were 21-39. As all three of us who created and shared the poll are above 21 years old, such imbalance in the age brackets is unavoidable.

Conclusion
While Crain states that transparency alone cannot remedy privacy-related concerns and other intrusions (2), our project aimed to direct users towards responsiveness, and contribute to current debates. Turow has noted that he has conducted national surveys, and while his findings state that consumers are conscious and worried that companies gather and use their data, they simply do not understand the severity of the issue and its possible consequences (7). A fact we came across time and time again, even amongst the most ardent of internet users. 
Sharing knowledge and empowering users to question data buying selling customs many companies and marketers practice clandestinely is a step towards an enlightened direction. It is the system of data commodification that needs to be overhauled (Crain 13, 14), however, the power to truly change this system lies with the institutions that have the power and resources (West 18).

It is crucial to induce an in-depth discussion on the issue of data trading, in order to implement policies that will curtail this sly manipulation of data brokers. If users of the group’s proposed application see concrete numbers and estimations of their worth, it can only instigate a new notion of data safety and privacy. En masse, users can start a productive and meaningful debate about data safety and privacy, and establish parameters to protect people’s information

* As shown through the huge number of investigations and reports ordered by a number of governments arounds the world. These reports all aim to shed light and investigate the work of data brokers and their impact on a society with increased internet dependency. Some of the reports we recommend include: The Federal Trade Commission’s: Data Brokers, A Call for Transparency and Accountability and Pam Dixon, the Executive Director of World Privacy Forum discussing: What Information Do Data Brokers Have on Consumers, and How Do They Use It?. Links to both PDFs can be found in the bibliography.

Bibliography

Committee on Science, Transport and Commerce. “A Review of the Data Broker Industry: Collection, Use, and Sale of Consumer Data for Marketing Purposes”, Staff Report for Chairman Rockefeller, 2013.

Crain, Matthew. “The limits of transparency: Data brokers and commodification.” New Media & Society, 7 July 2016, doi:10.1177/1461444816657096.

Curtis, Sophie. “How Much Is Your Personal Data Worth?” The Telegraph, Telegraph Media Group, 2015, www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/news/12012191/How-much-is-your-personal-data-worth.html

Dixon, Pam. “Congressional Testimony: What Information Do Data Brokers Have on Consumers?” World Privacy Forum, 2013. www.worldprivacyforum.org/2013/12/testimony-what-information-do-data-brokers-have-on-consumers/

Ehrenberg, Billy. “How Much Is Your Personal Data Worth?” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 2014, www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2014/apr/22/how-much-is-personal-data-worth

Federal Trade Commission, Data Brokers: A Call for Transparency and Accountability. May 2014, doi: https://www.ftc.gov/system/files/documents/reports/data-brokers-call-transparency-accountability-report-federal-trade-commission-may-2014/140527databrokerreport.pdf

Orange. “Consumers value their personal data at €170 / £140, Orange study finds”, Orange Press Release, 2014.

https://www.orange.com/en/Press-Room/press-releases/press-releases-2014/Consumers-value-their-personal-data-at-170-140-Orange-study-finds

Orange. “The future of digital trust: A European study on the nature of consumer trust and personal data”, LoudHouse and Orange, 2014.

https://www.orange.com/en/content/download/25973/581975/version/2/file/Report%20-%20My%20Data%20Value%20-%20Orange%20Future%20of%20Digital%20Trust%20-%20FINAL.pdf

Pam Dixon. What Information Do Data Brokers Have on Consumers, and How Do They Use It? World Privacy Forum, 18 Dec. 2013, pp. 1–40. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation,

http://www.worldprivacyforum.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/WPF_PamDixon_CongressionalTestimony_DataBrokers_2013_fs.pdf.

Steel, Emily. “Financial worth of data comes in at under a penny a piece’’ The Financial Times, 2013

https://www.ft.com/content/3cb056c6-d343-11e2-b3ff-00144feab7de?mhq5j=e5

Steel, Emily. “How Much Is Your Personal Data Worth?” The Financial Times, 2013

http://ig.ft.com/how-much-is-your-personal-data-worth/?mhq5j=e5

The Economist. “Regulating the internet giants: The world’s most valuable resource is no longer oil, but data” The Economist, 2017

https://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21721656-data-economy-demands-new-approach-antitrust-rules-worlds-most-valuable-resource

Turow, Joseph. The Daily You: How the New Advertising Industry Is Defining Your Identity and Your Worth. Yale University Press, 2012.

West, Sarah Myers. “Data Capitalism: Redefining the Logics of Surveillance and Privacy.” Business & Society, 5 July 2017, doi:10.1177/0007650317718185.

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