Should companies have to pay you to use your personal data?

Photo: Andrew Yang for President 2020/Facebook
Oct 04, 2019

Andrew Yang, one of the candidates among the large field running to be the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee in 2020, issued a new policy proposal this week that makes the case that digital data should be treated as a property right under law. 

He points to the fact that businesses, known and unknown, have access to vast amounts of personal data on Americans. These companies use the data collected to make money while not always paying close enough attention to protecting it. Reputable firms have asked Congress to create better, clearer rules on the collection and use of data.

Mr. Yang argues that the personal data of individuals should be owned by them and not a corporation. He lays out a list of seven rights he believes should be codified into law. These include the right to:

  1. Be informed as to what data is collected and how it will be used;
  2. Opt out of data collection or sharing;
  3. Be told if a website has data on an individual and what that is;
  4. Be forgotten and to have all data deleted upon request;
  5. Be informed if ownership of personal data changes hands;
  6. Be informed of data breaches in a timely manner;
  7. Download all data in a standardized format that can be ported to another platform.

“Consent should be informed and active,” Mr. Yang writes. “Companies are responsible for ensuring that they collect a positive opt-in from each user before collecting any data, and this opt-in should be accompanied by a clear and easy-to-understand statement about what data is being collected, and how it is going to be used. You can waive these rights and opt in to sharing your data if you wish for the companies’ benefit and your own convenience — but then you should receive a share of the economic value generated from your data.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you agree that an individual’s data is their personal property and should not be used without their consent and compensation? Would you add to, subtract from or otherwise modify any of the seven personal data rights listed by Andrew Yang?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"I love the idea — in theory. In reality, exactly what constitutes personal data?"
"Metadata is fair game. It’s like counting cars through a tollbooth. Individual data, likes and dislikes, purchase history and even eavesdropped conversation isn't."
"A lot of the tenets proposed are similar to those of an amped-up GDPR and yes, I agree that it’s time to enforce basic data regulations in the U.S."

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28 Comments on "Should companies have to pay you to use your personal data?"

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Mark Ryski

I agree that data should be considered personal property with all the rights and privileges that come with it, including many of the points listed. However, Pandora’s box is fully opened and I don’t see any practical way to put it back the way it was. I have very little faith that lawmakers can craft meaningful legislation to address the many dimensions of personal data privacy, and even less in the departments that would need to enforce any legislation that was enacted. I believe that personal data privacy will continue to be a lightning rod topic, and while it will be impossible to roll back data collection, there are still opportunities to rein in areas like facial recognition and profiling – or at least I hope there will be.

Art Suriano
I agree with Andrew Yang in theory; however, it is not as easy as it sounds. The one thing companies need to do a better job of (and of course I’m sure they don’t want to) is letting customers know that data is being tracked and give them an easy opt out option. Today nothing is private and companies have gone way overboard with what they track, how they track, how they use the information, and how they share it. Unfortunately, tracking data has become such a large business with all kinds of disguises; it’s impossible to know who is recording a customer’s data, when, and how. Eventually there will most likely be some regulation, but even with that, tech companies providing services will find their ways around it. The best advice to everyone is to be careful with what they do online, be cautious of what surveys one responds to and be careful giving out personal information. It won’t stop you from being tracked, but it will cut down on how much information companies… Read more »
Neil Saunders

One hopes that this will apply to government as well. We can then ask the IRS to forget us so that we don’t have to pay taxes!

On a serious note, I agree that consumers should have more control over the data stored on them. However, I am not sure that data should be a property right – especially if it’s given willingly. I also think government has no business mandating what consumers should be paid for data: that’s a private contract matter between individuals and companies.

Chris Buecker

Absolutely, personal data should be owned by individuals and carefully protected. In Europe, GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) which was introduced in May last year tries to regulate exactly that. In my opinion, privacy should be tackled with more focus throughout the world.

Bethany Allee

He’s advocating for an American equivalent of GDPR – what he outlines is almost exactly GDPR. We should learn from GDPR’s early success and failure. Slate published an article in March (a year into GDPR) analyzing the results. What they found is that GDPR policies have successfully improved breach notification law, but they fail when it comes to imposing fines on companies that don’t adequately protect their customers’ data.

Bob Amster

The question can be posed: do the data that one provides to a business become part of the public domain or is the provider entrusting those data to the recipient only, with no right to share it? If warnings are issued to the individual before the fact, then the consumer can opt to not provide the data or, given a choice, can request that data not be shared. If the product or service provider does not offer those choices, we can go do business with another business.

Lee Peterson

The only thing I’d add is a suggestion of choosing an option that would pay you for the data. I’ve read work by a few economists lately suggesting the same thing; your data is valuable, why should you give it away? Would you give some unknown entities other things of value for free? Like your car or your laptop or your zillion dollar bicycle (OK, that’s personal)? No. This would also create an economy of its own — I sell you my data, you sell me some goods that make sense to me. Rather than the one-sided proposition we’ve got in place now, which is: business gets all.

If we actually had a functioning Consumer Protection Agency, the above idea should be something they would move forward on and activate.

Lantz Starratt

Hi Lee, do you mind sharing any of the names of the economists you referenced above? Would love to delve deeper into different thoughts on this topic. Thanks!

Harley Feldman

Companies have been collecting data about their customers for years. The data is used to better target customers with products and services. The reason that people are getting more concerned currently is the data is collected more frequently and easily using electronic means. There are some changes needed to better protect consumer data, but implementing Yang’s ideas could eliminate much consumer data from use by companies. Companies will find it more difficult to forecast their consumers’ needs and desires causing their market risk and costs to go up. There is a definite downside to the Yang rules for such stringent restrictions on the use of consumer data.

Joel Rubinson

I know that The MIT Media Lab in 2009 felt this way too. HOWEVER — people ARE being paid for their data, IT’S CALLED FREE CONTENT! And guess what? this has existed since the early days of TV, newspapers (couldn’t be profitable without ad revenues), radio, etc. Now, if Yang and others want to change the economic exchange, fine, let’s see a legitimate proposal on how that would work. The only other element to bring up is that when marketers advertise on free media, there is no guarantee that people pay any attention. If consumers want to get paid for their data they must agree to being in a virtual room where they guarantee to pay attention — sounds complicated! Under the current system, I even think privacy protection like GDPR has gone way overboard. I think the current system is probably the best of all worlds, sorry Yang.

Ken Lonyai

I love the idea — in theory. In reality, exactly what constitutes personal data?

There is limited respect for “personal data” among companies operating in the U.S. and there absolutely are needed improvements along the lines of the E.U. This proposal, however, while sounding great, leaves a lot of space for debate/interpretation after the campaign. If it were a bill brought to a discussion for a vote, I’d have a lot more interest. As campaign rhetoric, it has little meaning. Look at how few campaign promises the current president made that have actually come to pass.

Lee Kent
I’m going to take a different path on this one. Retailers have always accessed our data in some form or fashion throughout time. How else do they make informed decisions about what we might want to buy? Maybe that data was simply knowing us and that Janie is getting married in a few months. Or maybe it is keeping up with the trends in other parts of the world to see what might fit in their community. This was part of being a retailer and, in many cases, I bet customers happily shared data just to get this service. A lot of this still holds true. How many of us complain when we get ads that have no relevance? Are there cases where the consumer should be paid for their data? Probably. Is it true in all cases? Nope. And it certainly is not a government issue. The better discussion might be around what kind of data poses more of a risk vs. what kind of data allows a provider to deliver better service. And… Read more »
Ralph Jacobson

I am all for more consumer choice and control of the shopping experience, including from a data privacy perspective. Sure companies are getting value from this data, so consumers being paid for that value is not by any means the craziest idea I’ve heard in this election cycle to date.

On the other hand, I think consumers have always been willing to accept no compensation from brands, or far more commonplace, to pay to advertise brands. Who reading this article does NOT own an apparel product that has a brand logo plastered for all to see on it? Hmmm …

Al McClain

MAYBE in a perfect world this would be a good idea. Unfortunately, we live in a world where we can’t (and the government can’t or won’t) stop robo calls, phone scammers and fraudsters, junk snail mail, and misleading or spam e-mail. There is zero chance of this being successfully implemented, and political candidates should focus on actually getting basic things done that have a chance of working in the real world.

Tom Erskine
2 years 10 months ago

Consent? Yes. As others have pointed out, that’s what GDPR already does. Compensation? The great thing about a free market is we as consumers get to choose how much we think our data is worth, and whether the “compensation” being offered (through the delivery of free services like social networks) is worth it. If we don’t like the deal we can decide not to take it. I’m not 100 percent sure what Mr. Yang is proposing, but I think the market we have works just fine.

Dr. Stephen Needel

Companies can certainly do a better job of informed consent without a lot of fine print. Let me opt in or opt out in simple terms (can we share your data outside of our company or not?). Beyond that, compensation is not likely and I’m not sure how much government intrusion I want on this.

Mel Kleiman
2 years 10 months ago

Something I feel every politician is going to agree on for once. Maybe we can get something done in Washington. The problem is that the conditions that companies put on using their products or services require a lot of information about you or allowing them to track a lot of what you do on the web and if you don’t give them permission you can not use the service.

Ken Wyker
I’m in general agreement with the sentiment behind the policy in the sense that I believe strongly that data privacy is not being respected and some companies are abusing the data through misuse. There are two areas where I would push back a bit. Firstly, data itself is not a property, but I believe that “personal” data is. I don’t think a customer should be able to require that their data be deleted entirely, but I do support a consumer’s right to have their personal information disassociated from the data. Secondly, I think it is a stretch to suggest that each customer be compensated (presumably in cash) for the economic value of their data. Instead of suggesting cash compensation, how about the policy require that before retaining personally identifiable data, the company collecting the data must “sell” the consumer on the value to them? That would force companies to focus more on the customer and how the data can be used to serve them. If the non-financial benefits are insufficient to get customers to share,… Read more »
Mohamed Amer, PhD

We’ve heard or even used terms like, “data is the new gold” or “data is the new oil.” It underpins every industry, creates new ones, and keeps growing exponentially. We’ve also elevated “consumer-centric” as today’s default strategy. Both worldviews reside in structure where companies do things to and for consumers. Companies create products and services from which consumers choose, ideally in a fair and equitable value exchange.

What if the consumer with thousands of personal attributes and a lifelong spending value becomes the starting point for this exchange? What if companies compete to fulfill individual consumer demands based on unique requirements controlled and broadcast by the consumer? Technology and the prominence and ubiquity of data, of personal data, in today’s and even more so tomorrow’s economy, have the potential to turn the value exchange paradigm on its head.

Ownership and control of your personal data is inevitable in the long run, and is the first step for this potential inversion of the existing value exchange paradigm.

Paula Rosenblum

There is a cryptocurrency company – Shopin – that was built to do just that. The consumer enters information into their version of blockchain database and if the retailer wants to use it for personalization purposes they pay the consumer a token. Obviously that gets converted to the currency of the shopper’s choice once received.

Yes, our information is our property and our currency. Period.

Michael La Kier

This is a bit contrarian, but we do receive compensation for data. When we download apps or use websites we don’t pay for what we use, so advertising and sharing of personal data is the fee for content and services — whether we like it or not. Of course, most people don’t understand the data crumbs we leave or the extent of how that data is used. And much of the data we share (willingly or not) then takes on a life of its own. Better transparency and control are certainly needed so Yang’s proposal does have legs.

Liz Crawford

Metadata is fair game. It’s like counting cars through a tollbooth. Individual data, likes and dislikes, purchase history and even eavesdropped conversation (Alexa, et al), isn’t. This is akin to digging through one’s personal files and using them for commercial advantage.

Yang is right.

Jasmine Glasheen

A lot of the tenets proposed are similar to those of an amped-up GDPR and yes, I agree that it’s time to enforce basic data regulations in the U.S. With that said, I’m not sure that a lawmaker is going to be able to pull passing this legislation in the U.S., where corporate lobbyists have a strong influence and behemoths like Amazon are trying to be the voice for federal privacy law.

Lantz Starratt

Andrew Yang’s proposal brings up a lot of really great questions. However, to get it from a proposal to an actionable policy could be the difficult, if not impossible part. It brings into question the very definition of what “personal data” is as well as the parameters and price we pay as consumers of places like the internet. If the heavy hitters like Google, Facebook, etc. were forced to comply with a policy like what Yang proposes, our internet would be a very different place, perhaps a much better one. Perhaps not. Who is to know since things have been this way for so incredibly long. Has there ever been a time where personal data hasn’t been collected? Most of the technology these days is somehow pilfering data from consumers, and whether that is a good thing or a bad thing remains the biggest debate. Although, how a business can go about backing a policy like this without becoming a pariah is really the true question.

Ken Morris

I agree with Mr Yang. Your personal data is your own property and you should and many cases are compensated for it in the form of discounts, offers and specials.

I would add an 8th commandment and that is when a company is acquired by another entity or goes into chapter 11 that all data must be deleted upon customer notification and request.

Shoshana Maraney
2 years 10 months ago
I think something that’s missing here is a discussion of technological solutions to the privacy problem, and ways of incentivizing companies to look for and use them. I work at a place that has developed a privacy-first way for companies to collaborate against fighting fraud without sharing sensitive user info (something which is done routinely under current norms). There must be equivalent developments going on in other fields as well. If there aren’t yet in particularly challenging fields (adtech comes to mind as being especially challenging) perhaps funding could be provided to teams with a plan to tackle the issue. Tech is often seen as the problem here, but it doesn’t have to be. I’m reminded of similar discussions that took place back in the late ’80s and early ’90s — and the development of PGP that followed it, and the many ways encryption became standard in our daily internet usage. Legislation isn’t the only way to approach this problem; if it’s going to be part of a governmental effort (all the more so if… Read more »
Bill Hanifin
The seven points outlined by Mr. Yang compose what I think the norm “should be” today. The trouble with how data is managed by brands today is that, while they comply with requirements to disclose privacy policies, the policies are too complicated for most people to read and understand. To be a friend of the consumer, Mr. Yang should advocate for current regulations to be implemented in such a way that consumers will be able to understand in plain English the data that is being collected and how it is managed or transferred. It should also be an absolute requirement, not an option, for brands to disclose when a breach has occurred. The part of this I do not agree with is that “you should receive a share of the economic value generated from your data.” That is a reasonable statement on the surface but reaching agreement on formulas to determine what that “economic value” is will be a nightmare if not impossible. If marketers are proficient at their trade, they should be delivering economic… Read more »