Much of the digital economy is based on a simple trade: We fork over information about our private lives, and companies give us free services like search or a social network. It's a so-so deal, and when you consider Mark Zuckerberg's billions, it's hard not to feel like Silicon Valley is getting the better end of things.
But now, a new startup promises to level the playing field! Kind of. An article today in the MIT Technology Review reports on Datacoup, which is offering individuals $8 a month for a combination of their social media data and a feed of transactions from their debit and credit cards. Datacoup strips that information of identifying characteristics, bundles it with other people's information, and sells it to companies who'll mine it for marketing insights. The MIT article mentions that in the future, Datacoup may let you monetize even more of your personal life, by paying for a closer look at your web browsing habits, and for data from personal tracking devices like Fitbit.
The thought of selling access to your private life is complicated. On the one hand, we've already given away a lot of our privacy, so we might as well get paid for it. On the other hand, a straight-up cash-for-data swap feels vulgar, and somehow related to more obvious no-no's like prostitution and organ trafficking. At the very least, Datacoup's offer highlights an unresolved question: We haven't yet decided the moral implications of privacy.
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