Aristotle and the Value of Personal Data

Do you know how much is worth your personal data? And how much would you give for it?

Take a piece of paper and write down some of your personal data: your address, email address, your top 3 hobbies, your religion, your relationship status, your average night length and your political leanings.

Now for how much would you sell this piece of paper to your local bakery? Of course, this paper will not be disclosed to the whole neighbourhood. So how much? 10€? 50€? Or you wouldn’t sell it for any amount?

Depending on the person, this value might vary drastically. You might think that your personal data is priceless such as your freedom of speech.

Unlike your freedom of speech, your personal data has a price and some companies’ revenue like Facebook’s mainly rely on your personal data exploitation.

Wibson — a blockchain-based decentralized marketplace empowering individuals to monetize their data- says your data is worth at least $240 per Year. But what does it mean? It may be the price a company is willing to pay but does it give any hint on how much you worth your data? Do we all value our personal data the same?

Let’s take a step back with Aristotle’s value theory.

Value in use and Exchange value

Aristotle devoted much of his thinking to value in the context of exchange.

According to Aristotle (Book I of the Politics), in order for things to be exchanged, things must be made equal, and the resulting equation is an expression of value. This is the exchange value.

Alongside, the value in use of a good or service depends upon its being productive of an individual person’s good. So, this value in use can vary among individuals and that the demand for the item is a function of its use value. The value in use of a tasty bottle of wine is quite low for someone who does not like wine but at the same time, its exchange value that you might call its “market value” or “price” in the store is the same for everyone.

The term “exchange value” is usually what we refer in our modern economy when we talk about value. In contrast, the value in use is trickier to apprehend and measure due to its subjectivity.

Personal Data as an Exchange Value

Getting the exchange value concept, you start to understand why something like your browsing history might seem priceless to you but still has a market price.

Your data is now present on different Data Marketplaces” (like Salesforce DMP, Datadome, Microsoft’s Azure). DMP (Data Marketplaces) are online stores where people can buy data. Features of data marketplaces involve setups that allow for the purchase of specific types of data in specific formats.

In these marketplaces data such as consumers keys metrics, demographic data or personal data are being exchanged between different kind of entities for a price.

Of course, you won’t find the value of your individual personal data but you can have a glance of what is worth aggregated personal data.

Director of the Social Media Lab at Ryerson University. “We sense that it’s a lot, because a company like Facebook is worth billions of dollars. But it’s hard to determine per individual, because in many cases, companies will sell aggregated data, so the value of the data is the fact that they know a lot about many people.”

You could still try to guess of much is worth your data on Kickstarter as Federico Zannier did. He gathered from people willing to pay to access his data, a total of $2,733. For just a $5 contribution, buyers got an entire week’s worth of Zannier’s data, which included 500 websites he visited, 4,000 webcam images, his GPS location, and even a recording of his mouse pointer movements.

“A bite of me” by Federico Zannier

One last interesting thing about the value in exchange of personal data is that the more data a company collects the higher the additional (marginal) data is worth. The emergence of AI and deep learning make so that Data has now an increasing marginal utility.

What is the value in use of your personal data?

That’s a tricky and interesting question. You use and give access to your data every day, but can you tell what is the value in use you get from it?

But wait, using my personal data? What do you mean?

The utility of your personal data is something quite unclear. First, because all the processes behind the utilization of your data are quite blurred and because we tend to minimize the scope of use of our personal data.

Yes, you’ve heard of it, Facebook exploit and is making money off your data your data but it is not only a GAFA’s feature. Your personal data is processed everywhere. When you take the bus to go to work you tap your transport card to enter, sharing your personal information with the IT system so that you don’t have to show your ticket and ID every time you enter. Then you put on your earphones to listen to your personalized Discover Weekly playlist and discover new bands that fit your taste… Do you get it?

The value you got out from the use of your personal data is quite unclear and difficult to measure. So how could you have an approximation of this value?

You can start by making a list of some of the free app you use: Facebook, Google Maps, Instagram, Gmail, YouTube… and then ask yourself how much you would give a month so that they stop using your personal data?

For myself:

  • Facebook: 10€/month
  • Google Maps: 15€/month
  • Gmail: 20€/month
  • YouTube: 2€/month (Ok, I’m not a fan of YouTube content)
  • Instagram: 5€ / month

Total: 75€/ month, what about you?

With just a very few apps you can start materializing your personal data value in use. As I said above, the value in use of a good or service depends upon its being productive of an individual person’s good. Some of you wouldn’t give a penny to use some of these apps or just don’t care about their personal data.

It’s all about value perception

You can value gold much more than water, but as soon as you run out of water in a summer heat you would give all your gold not to die thirsty.

It’s the same for your personal data. You may say “I’ve got nothing to hide”, but as soon as you understand that your individual liberties and democracy are jeopardized by the use of personal data, you might change your value perception.

The challenge of who controls that data and what rights we have over that data are not just questions for those in the IT world. The value of our personal data should be priceless as any other human right.

Don’t hesitate to share it! Aristotle would love it 🙂

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