The data value index

It seems that the average joe is beginning to understand that his digital data has value. What nerds have long known (if you're not the customer, you're the product) about our interactions with "free" digital services is becoming common knowledge. Many of us would rather pay with money than with our data.

I was part of a design thinking workshop over the weekend where "monetizing the value of personal data" or bringing that value back to the people from whom it came seemed to be part of every prototype. There are many serious efforts underway to change the dynamic between product user/data producer/you and data user/value accruer/big company. These include Open Mustard Seed, Project VRM, and several others.

I'm not an expert on any of this. And I'm as concerned about our ability to demonstrate and achieve public benefit from digital data as I am about my ability to protect my personal data. Public value - not just commercial profit and more advertising revenue for a few corporate behemoths. Real public good - safer, healthier, and more just and beautiful communities.

One idea that came up in the workshop really did catch my attention. And, as design thinking often promises, it was one of those little ideas, mentioned almost in passing, as part of some grander vision.

A daily index of the financial value of digital data.(the data value index - DVI - called it Davy).

Imagine a little graphic that showed how much certain industries were making off the digital data generated by individuals every day. Some rough math would be to simply divide the advertising revenue per quarter by the number of users of that company's product.

Ad revenue of Social media company X 
# of users of company X platform                = ad revenue/user = proxy for value of you and your data

The daily index would then calculate a version of this for top 3-5 companies in several industries 
(social media, search, insurance, healthcare, ...) and be able to show us "how much others were making of our data." In a simple, visual way that would catch our attention. It could be designed as a browser plug in - populating each time you go to a new website that is collecting your data.  This might 1) raise awareness of those who don't yet see it, 2) allow individuals to think about this reality, 3) see how it changes over time, 4) see which industries are buying/paying/being paid for this information.  The index could join in everywhere we see stock price tickers, Klout scores, or quantified self data.

There are lots of things that might happen with this in the commercial sector. Since I care more about civil society, I wonder if this might help us think about how our data can do good? In health care for example, an alternative DAVY might calculate the value of donated data to clinical trials. Samala and Paul, who were cooking up this idea at the workshop, started imagining how it could be used to influence pricing for affordable housing, or guidance for nonprofits seeking to encourage collective action around a particular community challenge. 

I'm often told that my ideas are too nerdy and need better marketing. So here's a suggestion  for  a simple idea, well expressed (with the caveat that it is intentionally half-baked) - the Data Value Index - showing each of us how much money others are making off of us. As an inspiration to spark both  personal responses (Wait, they're making how much off of me?) and to inspire us to see better possible uses (if I donate my information over here, perhaps it will be used to find a cure for cancer, create better public transit systems, point out inequities in educational systems, or improve access to healthy food)

It's half baked (though Paul and Samala may still be working on it). What do you think? Make it better.

*Paul and Samala said it was OK for me to blog this if I credited them by name. Done.


ErinC said...

Love the idea of the Data Value Index. I came across an app yesterday called Give2Charity. The premise is that as a user, you turn on location services for the app to track you even when you're not using it. Based on the location tracking data (and optional surveys), the app gives you points which you can trade in for a donation to a number of pre-screened charities. Supposed the app would like you to think that for "nothing" you can contribute to causes you may care about. BUT how much are they making on this data and how is it being used?

Caroline said...

Data has indeed become a critical aspect in the day to day on-goings. another critical aspect that needs a addressed is the Security of personal data

Brad Smith said...

When I read this Lucy, my thoughts immediately turn to who should develop this index and how it could be used. The answer I come up with is Consumers Union and similar consumer protection/rights organizations around the world. There are two models out there for generating big knowledge (and $$$$$)out of data. One is that consumers use free services that are paid for through advertising and the company behind the free stuff makes money off your personal interactions with their product (i.e. search records, page clicks, geo-locations, etc.). The more egregious form of this is that you pay dearly for a service (like mobile telephone access) and the companies use your personal interaction data to make even more money. Great for the businesses but not such a good deal for consumers. In essence consumers are paying to subsidize the revenue and profits of corporations. It would be interesting to see a consumer movement built around the Data Value Index that, apart from privacy concerns, also addresses the concept of paying consumers back for their subsidy through lower rates for vital paid services.

Lucy Bernholz said...

Brad -

It would be great to see Consumers Union or someone take this on - otherwise, we're going to get this version of it

See the image expecially