A recent segment on National Public Radio (NPR) in the U.S. discussed the notion of “free services” from social media and online platforms, tallying up the potential cost for services that most of us use everyday.

For example:

  • Unclogging a sink using YouTube versus paying a plumber $100 or more to get it done.
  • Using Yelp to find a restaurant versus paying $10-20 dollars for a restaurant guide.
  • Using Google Maps to find the restaurant versus paying $3 for a city map.

That’s just to name a few. But over the course of our everyday lives, the wide range of things we now get for free that we used to pay for can really add up. Equaling hundreds, even thousands of dollars per year.

With that said, by now most everyone knows these services aren’t really free. Users trade their daily trail of personal data for access to social media platforms and mobile apps. By simply clicking Agree, this unspoken, and sometimes unknown, arrangement lets companies use the data to make money. And lots of it.

Just how much are consumers “giving” away?

A recent MarketWatch article estimates Americans’ data alone is worth billions of dollars. On a global level, the number is easily in the trillions. However, according to the article, “when Facebook, Instagram and Twitter sell this data to advertising companies — $44 billion a year — users get nothing in return except the free use of the social media platform.”

But times are changing. Following the Facebook Cambridge Analytica scandal and the passing of Europe’s GDPR policy earlier in 2018, consumers are acutely aware that companies are mining their personal data for money.

Now, they want a piece of the pie.

Enter a new crop of startups with the goal of protecting a person’s right to what the article refers to as “universal basic data income.” For example, Washington, DC-based Digi.me enables consumers to choose exactly what types of information they want to share about themselves, giving them a complete picture of the personal data that exists on them from 15,000 online sources.

San Francisco-based Datum takes personal data monetization a step further, allowing consumers to sell their data directly to companies in an online marketplace type of environment. How much can you make? According to Datum, about two thousand US dollars of “passive income” per year.

Indeed, the pendulum has swung back to putting control of personal data back in the hands of the consumer. Privacy and protection are top of mind, but so is this relatively new phenomenon: Getting paid for your data. In this new environment, companies need to be open, clear and transparent on how they use customer data, helping ensure that digital sovereignty can be had by all.

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