Startups Want Consumers to Be Paid for Their Personal Data

Personal data is fueling a $455.3 billion online advertising market, and a crop of new startups wants consumers whose information creates the value to get a piece of that action. Among the startups are Brave Software, Tapestri, Reklaim and Streamlytics. Now real estate billionaire Frank McCourt has committed $250 million to fund Project Liberty, which he hopes will restyle the web as a platform owned by the public. Of that amount, McCourt — former owner of the L.A. Dodgers — earmarked $25 million to create a decentralized social networking protocol that aims to reinvent the model for consumer data governance online.

McCourt says he wants to reform the personal data sector because he feels social exploits users. He envisions a future in which blockchain software that isn’t owned by one company or individual will store “indelible information about users’ social connections,” according to a report by The Wall Street Journal.

With permission from users, social platforms could draw from this trove of consumer data. In theory, “this would allow users to move their data between networks and prevent a single company from becoming too powerful,” WSJ writes, noting users would “get paid in a cryptocurrency for the use of their data.”

By Project Liberty’s estimate, users could “make a few hundred dollars a year” in this manner, WSJ writes, citing Braxton Woodham, president of Unfinished Labs, the tech division of the investment firm McCourt Global, Inc.

However, WSJ suggests the path to such a result is “unclear.” This is due less to technological impediments than consumers’ own social behaviors. “Social-media companies optimize their networks to keep users there. Would a decentralized social network be as sticky? Plus, blockchain technology tends to make the web run more slowly and expensively,” WSJ reports. Woodham told WSJ that the pitch isn’t as much about earning potential as avoiding exploitation.

To support the vision, Project Liberty in September polled 1,022 U.S. adults and found that about 60 percent of respondents said “they would keep their data private if they owned and controlled it, while another 23 percent would exchange it for something of value,” WSJ says, noting the Brave browser “pays its 42 million users 70 percent of the revenue it generates from ads they see.”

Tapestri in November debuted an app that pays consumers up to $15 per month cash in exchange for their anonymized location history, which is then resold to brands. Black consumers who download their datadata from Amazon, Google Maps, Netflix, Uber and YouTube can then be paid for it by Streamlytics, whose Clture app makes it available to brands after anonymizing.

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