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How to sacrifice your online privacy for fun and profit

Alex Wawro | Feb. 13, 2013
You have value--and not just as a good friend, loving family member, and upstanding member of society. You're also a valuable commodity that companies buy and sell. Your age, browsing habits, and friends lists are all hot properties. And yes, all this data is recorded, packaged, and sold to the highest bidder by your favorite websites.

Of course, $10 is a pittance compared to the money Google is making off our search data. I don't know about you, but I wouldn't mind a cut of that estimated $600. Sadly, though, the best I can get right now is $10 to $15 worth of gift cards from Microsoft in exchange for using Bing.

The Bing Rewards program allows you rack up points for using Bing services, and while it's probably more valuable to Microsoft as a means of luring away Google diehards, it unmistakably establishes a clear exchange system of private data for profit. Earn points by conducting Bing searches, sharing your Facebook account, and pimping Bing to your friends, and then cash those points in for rewards like a $5 Amazon gift card or a month's subscription to the Xbox Music service (a $10 value). It's hardly a get-rich-quick scheme--but given how little Google pays us in exchange for our traffic, I'll take what I can get.

To trade data more directly, check out Personal, an encrypted data exchange designed to let you securely store and share your private data for profit. It works by separating your (freely submitted) data into discrete "gems" that you can selectively share with specific people, specific companies, or the entire Personal network. For example, you could use it to send medical records to family members, publish your perfect martini recipe to the Personal database, or share your TV preferences with Hulu in exchange for a free month of Hulu Plus.

Personal is still in beta, but it already allows you to commodify data and trade it with other users. Similar services are sure to follow, and if they prove themselves trustworthy and build up a large enough base of users to make retailers take notice, consumers will have the tools to take control of their data and start exchanging it for more than just a handful of coupons. Trading data for goods and services is the future. We're not quite there yet, but we can see it from here.


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