Putting a price on our data

A new report by Boston Consulting Group on behalf of Liberty Global has attempted to answer the question we often ask – how much is our personal data worth?

We’ve previously warned that with free services, consumers are no longer the customer – they are the product, to be monitored, profiled and sold on. With 96% of Google’s $37.9bn revenue in 2011 coming from advertising and Facebook’s advertising revenue in Q3 2012 reaching $1.086bn, the value of our data has been the oil to the digital revolution.

According to the report, the value extracted from European consumers’ personal data were worth €315bn in 2011 and has the potential to grow to nearly €1tn annually in 2020. That’s nearly 8% of European GDP.

Hardly surprising that the lobbying efforts against greater privacy protection are well funded. One of the main findings was that if users understood what data was being captured and why, and if they could see direct personal benefit, they were willing to hand over their data. The problem is at present consumers simply don’t have that knowledge or the legal protection to ensure they have a choice.

The danger is that without strong consumer protection and competitive markets, privacy is at risk from dominant or monopolistic companies reliant on ever increasing volumes of data about us – and with little to deter them from over-stepping the mark.

We should also not underestimate the power of these commercial interests in lobbying to regulate or outlaw privacy-enhancing technology, particularly where those commercial interests coincide with Government moves towards increased surveillance online. Russia’s plans to outlaw anonymous web-browsing will not only undermine the rights of users and allow the Government to control what citizens see online, but it will also help corporate interests reliant on data maintain their market position.