In life you must learn how to sell yourself, preached my highschool physics teacher. The wisdom of that idea lies perhaps in that there are so many ways to do this; PLUS now you can also market and sell your own privacy in a data cooperative. How perverted is that?
Services like Datacoup or TheGoodData let you “own your data” and actually sell it. Don’t just let Facebook and zillion tracking beacons profit off your browsing and social network life, profit yourself. In case of TheGoodData, by installing a brower extension which will track you while blocking competing trackers, in the case of Datacoup by connecting various accounts to the service. The companies offer a business model for profiting off data acquired this way, in which they have a share.
I have stumbled upon these two by reading OurData.Coop, which applies the concept of cooperative to data trail we leave behind when using electronics. Essentially, productive cooperative is an association of producers who share profits from common yield.
If our data is useful for profit, if it’s valuable, then we could say we “produce” it and we should get something in return.
To check it out I’ve signed up for Datacoup account. It allows you to add several data sources, from low to high value: social network, blog, and banking account. For each of them there is a list of data points collected: device, twitter hashtag and tweet times for Twitter, gender, relationship status, and location for Facebook, and so forth. It’s curious that at least in case of Facebook the company doesn’t harvest more of it. The most valuable is debit and credit card information, from which balances, expenditures, purchase types and dates are collected. After providing some cheap data to Datacoup (they don’t support my bank), my data was estimated to be worth a petty $0.46 a week. The next step is to actually market your privacy online. Datacoup suggests: “Know a company that should buy your data? Tweet at them”. So far the only buyer is Datacoup itself.
I’m really enthusiastic about marginal economies and different modes of production and collaboration, but this anti-privacy cooperative is a good example of how you can pervert the concept. At the same time, it’s very nuanced to point out why this is wrong.
In the world of kidney theft a kidney-coop would probably be the way to go. Privacy is dead so why not have your piece of the pie?
What are we selling here anyway? Is it a product or something else? A by-product or digital waste similar to dead epidermis? Treating data as a product originated from a relation in which service providers are in position to know you very well, and they exploit this knowledge. Out of line privacy intrusions (e.g. data-mining message/email contents) done by internet giants can surely be called abuse. Consequently, by participating in this business, am I not abusing myself?
This argument falls short in that Datacoup lets me see and decide what data points I want to share. By my actions I have let the data be, let me use the data as I please. As vain is referring to “human rights inherent to nature”, a dated essentialism which should not be striving in the privacy debate, especially as the strong point of Edward Snowden’s talk.
The final try to convince a data coop member would be to say: you don’t know what you’re doing. You don’t know what they will mine out from your data. Or how will it be used in 20 years. But how paternalist is that? In the end members of a data coop don’t abuse their natural selves.
My reserve towards this idea is not because somebody wants to commodify his privacy, but because this is a systemic tendency this project is adapting for. Using privacy for profit is not questioned anymore. Instead, data coop just helps to push the techno-capitalist determinism further. Another issue is that individualistic concept of “owning your data” is not dealing with the fact that problem of privacy is an ecological problem. Others selling data actually affect me more then just by shifting the market I am a member of too, they might actually sell my data – my e-mails, my pictures shared on their walls, my money transfers to them. This ecological change will surely affect me too.
As I understand, The OurData.Coup project itself proposes data cooperatives not for profit, but for benefit. A federation of data sharing associations could use it “to aid planning, service design, tender development and organisational transformation efforts”, treating the data more as a resource then as a commodity. It would also avoid the sharing economy pitfall, where the commons is exploited by a intermediary. This approach feels better, but perhaps just because it’s not merely instrumental. With data economy challenging privacy head on, we’re left with lesser evils to choose from.