Could our personal data solve for poverty on earth?

Your personal data is worth something, and actually we do deserve the value of these (our) data. Meanwhile are the large companies, such as Google and Facebook, the ones who collect our data as input and use it to transform it in valuable output. Via personal devices they record every step we take save it into their datacenters, these datacenters are the heart of what is called Big Data. A treasure of valuable data and new insights derived from e-mails, location based services, photo’s and many more sources most ordinary people are even not aware of.

Companies are willing to pay huge amounts for our personal data. Not only for advertising, but they can also use it to predict your future behavior. They are able to find indicators of a persons purchase intent and interests that we may be giving subconsciously. Some argue that Google’s business model is a threat, because its directly making money from what they have in control. They key is to regard data as an asset, as something valuable that’s our property and maybe we should even think a little bit about it like it’s money. Thinking different about it is controversial, data has always been used to sell goods and services, nowadays it’s the product.

Viktor Mayer Schonberger, author of ‘The Big Data Revolution’, found that companies do already look this way at big data so they’ve created new business models. Companies such as Facebook and Google have valuations of respectively $225 billon and $376 billion. All created with the value of our data. That’s why Jaron Lanier, author of ‘Who owns the Future’, wonders out loud, and so do I, weather we should get paid for this data supply. He estimates that the data should be worth hundreds of dollars for each person that’s active on the internet, if not thousands for some people. Every company nowadays sees data as a potential asset to generate value with, and we give it away to every company that we use services from because we don’t know how to possess our data and turn it into value ourselves.

Recently people fear that advances in technology will throw people out of work. The answer to this has always been ‘’No we are just making new ways of work that are even better than the previous ones’’, but the problem is that as things become highly automated and highly efficient because of digital technology, the question remains; can we still make that answer work? If cars are driving themselves and our products are printed by 3D printers instead of manufactured in a factory, is there then still anybody making a living? Then the only possible answer is that you can make a living with your information, because information is what becomes valuable in an highly advanced society.

So the value of personal data is going up which raises the question will this ever reach the poverty line? So weather the average value of information for a person in a certain country will be as much as the poverty line at some point. Jaron Lanier has made calculations and thinks that this is something that could happen. If information could eliminate poverty, then there are new ways to think about society, that might be something we should think about.

As a ambitious and entrepreneurial BIM student this futuristic philosophy keeps me thinking about ways to facilitate this shift from giving data to selling data. Feel free to leave a reply or contact me if you would like to share any thoughts about this.


Schonberger & Gukier, V, M. & K (2013) The Big Data Revolution, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Lanier, J. (2014) Who Owns The Future, Simon & Schuster.

Kim, Eugene (2015) Uber has grown faster in its first five years than Facebook did, 09-13-2015.

Forbes, (2015) The World’s Most Valuable Brands, 09-13-2015


10 responses to “Could our personal data solve for poverty on earth?”

  1. 439921dt says :

    I find the notion that big internet based firms like Facebook should pay for the data they get from users very interesting. In the end, their business is based on the information they get from their customers. However, I think it is very unlikely that users can monetize their data. Big players like Yahoo, Facebook or Microsoft have too much economical power to let such thing happen. So, in the end I do think that we just have to take it as given, that firms are using our data to do business.

  2. charrels says :

    If this would be the solution to help poverty, It would be great. However it is really difficult to control. Like you already said, most of the time the information companies get from us is under subconsciousness. And who will benefit from what. Companies that sell you the software or companies that sell the hardware that makes it possible to actually make use of this data. Or you as a user who provides all the data.
    More and more people in developing countries are using the internet. If they would get paid for their usage their economy would grow.

    However, the biggest problem stays keeping it under control. How can your data be secured? But also the possibility to make predictions as a company. By using big data companies can predict your next purchase, but also a new terrorist attack. At the moment a lot of benefits are arising by companies using big data and not only for themselves. For example: ‘tracking vital signs to foresee deadly infections, predicting building fires, anticipating the best moment to buy a plane ticket, seeing inflation in real time and monitoring social media in order to identify trends.’ These examples will not only increase profit of companies but also help human beings.
    What will be line to cross over to get paid as a user and at the same time being the source of information? How can we privatize for example the Cloud?

  3. 366650do says :

    I completely agree with the idea that data should be considered now as a new stream of value for both companies and individuals. However, what bothers me is the exact calculation of this value for individuals. What exactly will companies consider inportant about a person using the internet? Traffic related to purchases, yes. The videos seen on youtube in order to be able to place more relevant ads for the person, that is also possible. But I believe that the money would be only given, if this idea becomes real, if it leads to certain purchase derived from the efforts put in by the companies.

    On the other hand, if we think about it globally, I do no think it will save the world from poverty in any foreseable future. There are big layers of society with very limited access to internet still as well as very dispersed markets for companies to target. Apart from that, once everybody start gaining money from their data, the way the economy works will be restructured and the new definition of poverty will be established.

    You also mentioned the following: ‘Every company nowadays sees data as a potential asset to generate value with, and we give it away to every company that we use services from because we don’t know how to possess our data and turn it into value ourselves’. But to think more distantly about it, we gain value ourselves from data we give. With ‘recommended for you’ features people save their time and efforts in finding information/music/devices that they will be potentially interested in. It is also pretty easy to change the preferences. Once you start a new stream of search, the SEO adapts to your new preferences and suggests you something new and different.

    But yes, it is a food for thought for upcoming decades!

  4. navidsadatrazavi says :

    Hi everyone,
    I believe that this line of argumentation is very interesting, though flawed!
    I agree with author, that every business transaction needs two sides. Hence, if Facebook is making profit out of collected user-data, the suppliers of this data, the users, need to be part of the transaction. Hence, we need to ask ourselves, what incentive Facebook gives us to be part of their network.
    In my opinion, the author is ignoring the fact that the value-added service Facebook is providing to its users is charged with their personal information. Although I agree that the idea would be beneficial and would have a positive outcome for society, we must be aware that, once created an account, we have sold the rights to the presented data in exchange for the Facebook service. Hence, the missing transaction that is rewarding both sides is not absent, as described by the author, but rather forgotten or ignored by the majority of people using Facebook. It seems that many people have taken for granted.
    Additionally, any person who does not agree with the terms and condition of the transaction he is engaging in, can easily opt-out. There are many social networks with comparable services that do not deal with user data. Unfortunately, most people do not care about the described topic, in order to actually change something.

    • 419214fh says :

      Thanks for your comment, you said that I as author ignored the fact that the value-added service Facebook is providing to its users is charged with personal information. I recognize this, although they don’t use it just for value added services. The tech giants collecting personal data is even one of the biggest threats on the ‘free’ world wide web. For example, Google, they use our data to make predictions of which advertisement we will most likely click on, this results in personal suggestions, it turns out that they even better can predict what we will be clicking on then we are aware of, so they are in control and send us in the directions they want and they make profit with it. Would you still consider this as just a value added service? And it is easily said that we can just make use of substitutes, but then you don’t consider the network effect which makes users depending on the tech giants such as Facebook and Google.

  5. 344951jk says :

    I think it is a brilliant idea to sell rather than (often unknowingly) give away useful, and, apparently, very valuable data. In addition to the fact that this helps avoid powerhouses that make money out of practically nothing, it may help reduce privacy issues. If people willingly and knowingly sell information about themselves, they also have full control about what information exactly becomes available to those companies.

    In my eyes it is rather scary that some companies seem to know us better then we know ourselves. Amazon for example uses algorithms that can find out what you will buy before you yourself have decided to buy it. While, yes, this can be used in a positive way to, for example, reduce delivery times, one must wonder when a line will be drawn, between what is acceptable and what is not. Making information a merchandise that needs to be bought directly from the source (us), this concern may be addressed while at the same time providing us with a bit of income!

  6. 437277cz says :

    This is not a research based comment but rather a quick summary of the my first thought after reading your very interesting post.
    So if we would actually get financially rewarded for providing our data what is the likelihood that this reward will be the same for everyone? Intuintively it seems reasonable to me that the amount of money you could get for your data is linked to your personal purchasing power. Therefore the data of a person with an initially high purchasing power would have a much higher value to companies since the respective person could possibly consume a lot of goods and services. Or looking at it from the other perspective, the data from a person with low initial purchasing power is also of low value to companies since the respective individual can only consume a very limited amount of goods and services. It follows that “rich” individuals would receive a much higher amount of money for their personal data than “poor” individuals. So if the average value of personal data in a certain country might reach the poverty line this would then be more due to the increased income gap between rich and poor resulting from the additional income through providing personal data.
    In conclusion, the rich would get even richer while the poor would stay poor!
    In order to illustrate my thoughts, hereafter follows a simple mathematical example:
    Income A: 1000, Income B: 10, Relative Value of Information: 10%, Poverty line: 50
    Value of information for A: 100, Value of information for B: 1, Average Value of information: 50.5
    Income with information reward for A: 1100, Income with information reward for B: 11
    -> Average value of information (50.5) > Poverty line (50)

    • 419214fh says :

      I agree that it is a really futuristic philosophy and that it is everything but a watertight plan to solve for poverty. Though, as bigger parts from the world will have acces to the internet, we are all getting wealthier over time, the thought that big data could contribute to the solution for poverty on earth could become reality. However, I think that you’ve made a good point, though the value depends on the demand of the information shared, which will largely be determined by the degree of online activity, and so of course the value for each individual will be different.

  7. deikem says :

    Interesting thought. I would like to give you just a thought I had when reading it, please correct me if I am wrong on this one 😉
    Right now it seems as if the biggest market for data is targeted advertisements, some products based on analytics, insurance firms might base their payment structure on e.g. the data they retrieve when you drive risk averse…. However, this all indicates that the data on the person is used to offer them a product, hence it is not likely that the value of data will be higher than the economic value of the customer wouldn’t it? Because he can only spend as much money as he actually earned creating value. When a customer earns 1000 Euros his data can be worth a maximum of 1000 Euros because that is his spending power. If we say that a customer without any spending power to start with will get paid for their data we would be creating an artificial market wouldn’t we? While this would work for some time it would not be a sustainable market.
    Also the value of data differs from person to person. If you wanted to use the data gathered in and eastern country in a western one, the quality of data would instantly decrease due to differences in culture, value and environments.

  8. gsacha says :

    Hi! You wrote a very interesting article on a relevant topic.

    I agree when you argue that we are probably living a new “industrial revolution” and I would add that we need to tackle the challenges linked to Big Data (security privacy…). However, despite the fact that digitalisation is highly related to Big Data, I would keep in mind these are two different topics.

    I agree we need to rethink the society, but maybe not so far as you argue. I don’t think we will evoluate in a world in which customers sell their personnal data. In fact, as you know, the value of Big Data is retrieved from the volume of the data( as well as velocity and variety). So what is the value of our intrinsic data? Not big… But put 1 million of intrinsic data together, and here you are, you get the added value.

    But the change has already started, and there’s little we can do about this. But with analytic models behind, we could try to use efficiently the data in order to face and reduce current poverty. Still, I don’t think poverty will come as a consequence of the use of Big Data and digitalisation.

    Despite those facts, I totally agree : nowadays, the value is in the data!

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