Technology

Engaged? Have Heartburn? Own a Boat? Your Data's Worth More


Engaged? Have Heartburn? Own a Boat? Your Data's Worth More

Photograph by Colin Anderson

We all know that personal data are the emerging asset class of the information age, the crude oil that powers the Internet economy. But how much is each incremental bit of information worth? It’s like measuring by the teaspoon. The Financial Times has a calculator that lets readers break down how much data brokers will pay for the details of users’ personal lives.

Basically, there are two kind of things data brokers want to know: whether you are planning to buy things, and whether you have the means to do so.

Here’s the profile of a particularly valuable person, according to the Financial Times analysis. Her basic demographic information (0.7¢) isn’t important, since it’s so easy to find out. But this woman is a millionaire entrepreneur (12.6¢) who owns a boat (7.6¢) and a plane (8.5¢). She’s also a fitness nut (3¢) who is trying to lose some weight by going to exercise classes (10.5¢). Her marriage recently ended (10¢), but don’t feel too bad for her. She got engaged within the past month (12¢)—a bit scandalously, considering she’s in the second trimester of her first pregnancy (9.7¢). She owns a house (10.5¢) but is going to sell it and move soon (8.5¢).

She likes a good cruise (3¢), especially if it gets to some foreign countries (3¢). Back home, she’s looking for a new car (0.17¢), and it’s about time for her to get a new phone, too (1.25¢). That means she’s been spending some time on websites to find information about automobiles, technology products, and financial information (0.47¢). Oh, and she’s one of those folks who collects loyalty cards from the places she shops (0.1¢).

Even more important than the cars, gadgets, and cribs, though, are the pills. Data brokers pay the highest prices to find out about people’s medical problems. And let’s face it, this lady’s life sounds kind of stressful. Her acid reflux (26¢) and heartburn (26¢) have been really bothering her recently—unpleasant, but from a data collector’s standpoint, quite valuable.

For such a complete view of such an unusual life, a data broker would pay $1.5629. So anyone selling it had better get to know a pretty large group of recent divorcées, new parents, and sufferers of ailments. Not surprisingly, perhaps, the biggest bounties are paid to those who can find out exactly what most of us don’t want people to know.

Brustein is a writer for Businessweek.com in New York.

Later, Baby
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