Owning Your Data in the Third-Party Oasis

Your data, my data, our data, everybody's data. It’s a reflection of who we are as people; our beliefs, preferences, opinions, and decisions represent our digital activity, and can be turned into points of analysis. Sometimes beneficial to us and sometimes cumbersome, collecting and analyzing our data predates the Internet and pervades across sectors. From academia to marketing, data collection is now more advanced in the age of big information, where targeting a customer can be both good and bad.
Perspectives, 2018.08.02
The Finnoq team believes that we should live in a world where your opinions are personally incentivized and monetized, rendering the current structure irrelevant. Instead of living in a world where our estimated 44 zettabytes (44 trillion gigabytes) of data by 2020 are traded for profit while our reward is spam and unsolicited advertisements, our opinions would be more valuable to the world when incentivized to bring honesty and objectivity to the digital forum. The Finnoq protocol is a worthy conduit for anonymous, secure, and incentivized opinions toward addressing global challenges, both big and small.

THIRD PARTY-DATA: WHAT AND HOW?

A cookie is a small file, either temporarily or permanently determined on the hard disk when visiting a new website (we even have them on ours). That small file recognizes user preferences and tracks information to transfer such preferences to other websites. Long story short: the first-party cookie is a small amount of text stored in the user’s computer that is created by a website the user is visiting for tracking purposes.

What is first-party data? All information on the Internet about a user is first-party data. This data is most often cookie-based, and is the most valuable data that can be collected for the audience. First-party data is the most useful and valuable, but eventually a company wants to reach an audience about which it has no first-hand information. This is where second-party and third-party data become useful. Second party data is (in theory) somebody else’s first-party data as the moment when one accepts cookies.

Now we arrive to our definition of highest interest: third-party data. There is no direct relationship between third parties and consumers. So, a third-party provider could pay website publishers to collect information about their visitors, use it to create detailed profiles about user’s tastes and behaviors, and sell it to an advertiser who targets ad buys. This could be done through third party cookies, placed on a user’s hard disk by a website and track a user’s habits across the web. A useful graphic on the matter can be found below:

 

But how did third parties break onto the scene? Companies were doing promotion/publicity without knowledge about what their consumers liked. Millions of dollars were wasted on meaningless ads and contributed to overall consumer ad fatigue. Marketers were thinking of having a meaningful conversation with consumers; hence, third parties found a role. Solving that problem, marketers can now work with multiple third-party data providers to create a customized, segmented audience. So instead of guessing, marketers can find an exact audience they’re looking for using data sets.

What do these third parties mean to us consumers? As second parties are selling personal information from the internet to third parties, what do customers get in return? A loss of privacy for a potentially better (yet inefficient) user experience.

Profiling, Aggregating, and Identifying

  What is the data actually used for? Third parties can take data and create highly-detailed profiles of a person based on age, race, sex, weight, height, marital status, education level, politics, shopping habits, health issues, and holiday plans to name a few. These profiles help companies target end consumers, 71% of whom prefer personalized ads according to one survey. Further, this profiling was recently the subject of a major scandal involving Cambridge Analytica, a firm that harvested 87 million profiles over Facebook for political parties in America and Great Britain. In an environment where “Personal information and human attention have become a quasi-currency”, companies create ranges and “tolerate some guesswork” to tailor an advertising strategy.   On the other hand, the information collected could be used for nefarious purposes, and perhaps even be incorrect in targeting a market segment. The FTC report was quick to note that “data brokers expose vulnerable populations to those offering predatory products.” Such could include “differential pricing”, whereby a firm sells at various prices knowing the segment with which it engages is somehow vulnerable. Further, what if the information provided about the targeted consumer is wrong? Such was tested by Caitlyn Renee Miller, who reported that “50% of the data in the report about me was incorrect”. According to her, correct information was presented in “wide ranges”, indicative of the targeting process. When the information is incorrect, removing it from a digital biography is difficult or potentially impossible, leading to potentially less access to finance or higher insurance rates. Data profiling risks can come about as a “result of how the data is used rather than who holds it”.  

 

DATA PRIVACY VERSUS PRIVACY FALLACY

When your data is no longer only in your hands, consider what that means in the broader picture in terms of size and scope of the industry and the legality/price of acquiring data. These factors contribute to an overall picture that necessitates a change in the way our data is used to create revenue for others.  

Industry Figures

There are no uniform figures regarding the data brokerage industry. With that in mind, there is one thing that becomes very clear: data brokerage is a huge industry where companies are cashing in at our expense. In 2014, the American Federal Trade Commission (FTC) found that revenue from nine data brokerage firms for marketing, risk mitigation, and people search totalled $426 million. The chart from that study is below:

 

 

Already a lot? This is only a fraction of the industry. Other studies go further, showing that the industry in 2012 was estimated at $200 billion and revenues generated were around $150 billion. A third study shows the the total spent for online advertising in the USA increased ninefold starting from 2000 until 2016. Another graph from that article is below:

 

A separate study found that one data brokerage firm held 700 billion aggregated data elements, while another had one trillion dollars in consumer transactions. This “largely invisible” industry goes unfettered even with regulation in effect; for example, the data firm Acxiom expects 2018 annual revenue to be around $945 million, yet who has ever heard of this firm? Thus, irrespective of the exact number, one can surmise that the data brokerage industry is huge and profits off of our personal data. On a per-person basis, however, how much does it cost or is worth?

Price and Legality: Neither with Personal Control

It is hard to estimate how much the data is personally worth to us. One estimate believes on Facebook that data could be monetized at $240 a year for the American user of the platform. Another estimated our Google data to be worth $289.19 a year for the American user. There is also the famous case of Federico Zannier. As an IT consultant, he sold practically all of his online activity data for $2 a day on kickstarter. Estimating that he’d receive $500 during the month, he ended up with $2,733 when it was all said and done. Our data from that lens is valuable. In reality, firms purchase entire databases and thus the value per person is lower.

Others however aim much lower with greater nuance, noting that the value of one’s personal data is directly related to career and lifestyle. In other words, if the person is wealthy or has chronic health issues, this data is worth more for targeting future customers. Another source and nifty calculator seconds this notion, showing that personal data might not even be worth $1. One must importantly ask: is data valued based on company earnings or how much it is sold for on a market? Unfortunately, data brokers do not share details about their data sources. However, when our data is purchased illegally, what is its respective value?

Our data and entire identities can be taken from us on the dark web. Everything about you can be sold for approximately less than or about $1,200, and by others a passport alone can go for $1,000-$2000. Credentials can be purchased and sold individually or as part of a hacked database when security breaches take place. Whether using the most “conservative” or “exuberant” estimations of how much our data is worth (legally or illegally obtained), it is valuable to you and the company/hacker using it.

Whether the data be used for targeted marketing or nefarious hacking, purchased legally or illegally, or cheap/expensive, two questions loom. First, why is our data sellable at all? Second, why isn’t our data monetized? This is where the Finnoq protocol looks to change the pervading and accepted reality of today.

 

INCENTIVIZED OPINION DATA POINTS WITHIN THE FINNOQ PROTOCOL

Although the new and increasingly cashless economy and its corresponding data continue to grow, the notion that aggregated digital records benefit a firm and work against us is wrong. User behaviors are currently collected across platforms as a means to serve businesses and recirculate back to end users. This however may only reflect  “widespread biases that persist in society at large”. These digital echo chambers enable end users to confirm their pre-existing beliefs and preferences, where little innovative knowledge, diversity of thought, and value is created. With the Finnoq protocol, this changes.

Our goal is to create a decentralized protocol for opinion markets, incentivizing a community to give independent, honest, and knowledgeable opinions in providing much-needed wisdom to daily queries. How is this done? We structure rewards (and penalties) for responses, and the result is that one’s opinion and corresponding data become valuable to the person and community. Today, market actors attempt to shape market behavior by selling and buying our personal data and rerouting it back to us. However, if our data was actually ours, we could use our data at our disposal and monetize it accordingly. Whereas many blockchain projects are coming to the surface with such a goal in mind, none seek to monetize opinions.

For whichever means you seek to tangibly value your personal data, whether described above or elsewhere, imagine having that back in your pockets for starters. From there, visualize taking that worth and instead of liking another post, sharing another article, or being tracked with another cookie, you’d give a truthful and anonymous opinion and give something back to society. Instead of digital shouting for the sake of feeling heard, you can be the change in society that you seek, all funnelled into a collective opinion statement more powerful than what any one single entity could do alone.

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