The Tech Giants Get Rich Using Your Data. What do You Get in Return?

Paying with your data for "free'' services is much more expensive that most people realize.

learn more about Mat Travizano

By Mat Travizano

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The truth is quickly coming to light. Google, Facebook and others are using you in ways you may not be aware.

These tech giants certainly provide valuable services for connection and collaboration, but in the wake of Google and Facebook's recent privacy issues, tightening regulations and increased mistrust of Silicon Valley companies, consumers are beginning to understand the true price of "free."

Earlier this year, Facebook got caught in a massive data harvesting scandal. The company provided political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica access to millions of Facebook users' private data under false pretenses. The fallout hit Facebook hard, and many users are starting to reexamine their relationship with the platform altogether.

Related: 3 Key Changes to Facebook Advertising After a Year of Scandal and Regulation

As the global conversation around consumer data privacy reaches a turning point, new rules are being implemented to make the internet a safer and more transparent place. The EU put the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), a measure that establishes valid and lawful consent with regard to the use of one's data, into effect on May 25, 2018. Soon after, California passed its own Consumer Privacy Act. When it goes into effect in 2020, it will likely be the most sweeping privacy protection law in the United States, an important step in developing and improving America's loosely regulated data regime.

When you look at the big picture numbers, they are staggering. Facebook has enough data on its average user to fill 400,000 Word docs; Google has more than seven times that amount, or the equivalent of roughly three million Word docs per user. They collect everything from the seemingly mundane -- stickers used in Facebook Messenger -- to information that, practically speaking, should no longer be in their possession, such as deleted documents and browsing history.

The problem isn't only that these companies collect our data with little transparency. It's that they profit from the use of our data instead of us. Think about it this way. A celebrity like Kim Kardashian wouldn't let just anyone use her likeness to make money. Similarly, your data is your "digital" image.

Here are four reasons why you should be the one profiting from your data:

1. Ownership.

If you were taken out of the equation, would your data exist? It most certainly would not. Artists paint, and unless they've given consent otherwise, their work belongs to them. You created the data. You own it.

Related: Why Google and Facebook Should Be Treated Like Banks

2. Control.

Since you are the owner of your property, you should also decide how it is used. If you want to keep it completely private and leave no digital footprint, that should be up to you. If you want to leverage your data to make some extra cash, that should also be your decision.

3. Money.

Companies that monetize your data are making out like bandits. Google generated $31.2 billion in revenue in the first quarter of 2018 alone, and Mark Zuckerberg's personal net worth is double that. You are the product that Google and Facebook monetize. Their entire revenue model falls apart if they are not able to sell your data to advertisers.

4. Influence.

Not only is your data taken from you, it is ultimately used to influence your behavior. Ad targeting practices can range from annoying -- one innocuous Google search becomes an onslaught of ads stalking you around the Internet -- to treacherous -- fake news and fake accounts impacting elections. All aspects of your user experience are reduced to mechanical algorithms focused on "engagement," with little-to-no regard for the larger consequences and long-term impact. You are left to suffer the ramifications, while they are allowed to profit.

We live in a world where it is nearly impossible to engage digitally without having our data collected. That doesn't mean we should accept the status quo.

Related: Me, Myself and AI: Is That My Privacy in the Rearview Mirror?

Imagine you're in the market for a new television. What if you could easily adjust the settings in your personal data-management platform to temporarily provide consumer electronics brands access to your data in order to personalize offers based on what's most important to you. Now the brands get to compete for your business, knowing that the best offer wins you as a customer. The point is you get to choose how much you share, with whom it's shared, and for how long. Not to mention that you receive another important benefit: Better offers based on a transparent market from brands competing for your business.

Both advertisers and consumers benefit from a relationship in which individuals have greater autonomy over their personal data. Advertisers can target engaged customers who are primed to purchase products and services. Consumers are empowered to use their data in alignment with their values and needs.

While the tech giants still work out the kinks when it comes to GDPR compliance, it's clear there's been a global shift on this important issue. Our data is a valuable resource. Like any resource, personal data should be used as a tool to benefit and enhance our lives. At the core of this conversation, we don't need five, 10 or 100 reasons why you should profit from your data. We just need one -- owning your data is your right.
Mat Travizano

CEO of Grandata and Founder of Wibson

Mat Travizano is the co-founder and CEO of Grandata, a San Francisco-based data analytics company that is developing Wibson, a blockchain-based, decentralized data marketplace that provides individuals a way to securely and anonymously sell validated private information in a trusted environment.

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