The Internet Gold Rush: How Much Does Your Digital Life Cost?

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The internet today is a strange paradox of both the best and worst society has to offer. For every cute dog picture, uplifting story, or knitting community, there are also people anonymously or openly spreading bigotry and hatred.

However, the one thing everyone on the information superhighway has in common is that data on pretty much everything they do online — whether it’s reading an article, shopping, or simply visiting a website — is tracked and stored by hundreds of companies. This personal info, which is given out for free on a daily basis, has started a data gold rush on the internet, and one that certainly won’t be going away anytime soon.

Whether or not you’ve noticed it while scrolling to the bottom of an obscenely long terms-of-service agreement during social media sign ups, most companies use and buy your data, primarily in studies for advertising purposes or to test the waters for future products — and the likelihood of this information leaking is increasing due to perennial security breaches.

All this begs the question: How much is your digital footprint really worth to companies? Thanks to a bill currently being proposed in the US Senate, there might be a way to find out soon. The Designing Accounting Safeguards to Help Broader Oversight and Regulations on Data (DASHBOARD) Act will allow users to check the value of their data, as well as delete it from a company’s database if they wish.

In the meantime, there have also been plenty of studies done on the approximate amounts your data might fetch. Your general information — stuff like age, marital status, and annual income — usually won’t go above $1.26. But other kinds of information, like smartphone activity data, can go for up to $2.75 according to a 2016 study by the University of Trento.

On the darker side of things, hackers are more than willing to pay higher prices for more sought-after examples of your personal records, like $20 for your driver’s license, or approximately $247 for your PayPal credentials, according to a study done by Keeper Security.

If you’re interested, here are two informative videos: one on the DASHBOARD Act and another on how companies sell and profit from your data.


Related front page panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from Brother UK / Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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