Can I Profit Off My Own Data?

Big brother
Big brother
Will the good coming from big data outweigh the bad (think: big brother, privacy...)?

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Thomas Leuthard/Flickr

Have you ever googled embarrassing bodily symptoms for more information about what you were experiencing to then sign onto Facebook and see suggested ads for medicines and remedies for those symptoms? What about online shopping for new shoes or the latest cell phone to then find every ad you see while browsing online trying to sell you what you were shopping for? This is a result of data collection and marketing companies purchasing this data to more effectively advertise and sell their products to you.
Data is collected by various means in which most people are unaware. Every time a person uses a technological device, data is being logged about them. Our smartphones, televisions, chips on our credit cards (which track everything we buy) are just some of the ways that we unknowingly contribute to Big Data. Companies collect every bit of information they can from us and then sell it to third party members. It is virtually impossible to go without being tracked. If companies are selling and buying our information, compiling that data into an algorithm, and turning major profits, contributing people should also be able to make a small profit. Without this data, companies wouldn’t be as successful in marketing strategies or turn as much profit.

Almost every major retailer has a “predictive analytics” department comprised of mathematicians who study all of the consumer data collected by the company, and bought from other companies, to predict what they will buy. "PCAST wrote that "the challenges to privacy arise because technologies collect so much data and analyze them so efficiently that it is possible to learn far more than most people had anticipated or can anticipate given continuing progress. These challenges are compounded by limitations on traditional technologies used to protect privacy PCAST concludes that technology alone cannot protect privacy, and policy intended to protect privacy needs to reflect what is (and is not) technologically feasible"" ( Andrew Pole, a statistician who worked for Target, was able to develop a computer program than can tell when a woman is pregnant, even when she doesn’t want anyone else to know. The program can also predict which trimester she is in. Why was this profitable? Pregnant women buy more products than all other types of consumers (Duhigg, pg. 192). Target will send coupons for everything a new mother could need- baby wipes, diapers, and lotion. They will also send coupons for regular items that the consumer would’ve usually purchased elsewhere. However, tired parents will more than likely make one stop to purchase everything that they need. The consumer eventually ends up shopping regularly at Target. This all came to light when an angry father in Minnesota confronted a manager at Target for sending his teenage daughter ads and coupons for baby clothes and maternity wear. As it turned out, the teen already knew she was pregnant and was trying to hide it from her parents. Numerous people have filed class-action lawsuits against Target and hundreds of others for using data in intrusive ways such as this.

Instances like this has led to the belief that Big Data abuse is inevitable, as numerous incidences have been documented displaying this. The Patriot Act, which gave the government reasonable cause to monitor people based off of erratic behavior (such as purchasing materials to build a bomb) basically gave the government permission to monitor every citizen in the US. "On May 1, 2014, the White House released the "Big Data Privacy Report". The report noted that "big data technologies will be transformative in every sphere of life" and that they raise "considerable questions about how our framework for privacy protection applies in a big data ecosystem." The review also warned that "data analytics have the potential to eclipse longstanding civil rights protections in how personal information is used in housing, credit, employment, health, education, and the marketplace. Americans' relationship with data should expand, not diminish, their opportunities and potential" (
"In the equation of big data, we are each a variable the analysis is attempting to solve. We’re the ones who determine the balance of big data, so we must take it upon ourselves to control our data and release it only as we see fit. It’s also our responsibility to learn how the organizations we support are using it.".
People should be able to completely opt-in or opt-out of their own personal data collection. If an individual decides to opt-in, they will receive a monthly payment for participation. Before a decision is made, everyone must be given accurate information as to what data is being collected and how it is being utilized. Most companies hide this information in lengthy user agreements and legal jargon that the average consumer can’t understand, so it should be explained in a way that they can understand. That company may not sell or share the individual’s information to a third party member without the expressed consent of the individual. If they opt-out, none of their information can be stored, bought, or sold for company profits, records, or gain. Selling an individual’s personal data without formal acknowledgement and permission is theft and a massive violation of privacy.
Although Big Data is intrusive, but there are benefits to having it when used appropriately. Wearable technology is being utilized to develop personalized medicine. It does this by tracking all of our habits of movement, heart rate, eating habits, etc. to attempt to determine what patterns lead to diseases. The overall goal is to understand how we operate by studying things such as how we age, cancer growth, life, death, and parenting.Law enforcement has been able to save lives, locate stolen phones and vehicles, and catch criminals by being able to track them through gps and spending habits. Consumers get coupons for items that they frequently buy in the grocery store.
Massive data collection is extremely intrusive and many people aren’t comfortable with that fact. Most people aren’t even aware it's happening or that they are being profited off of. However it can be the key to eradicating disease, birth defects, and so much more. Do the benefits vastly outweigh the negatives?
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1. Riedel, Daniel. "Duality of Big Data: The Angel and the Demon." WIRED, 15 March 2017,
2. "Big Data and the Future of Privacy." Electronic Privacy Information Center, 16 March 2017,
3. "The Human Face of Big Data." YouTube, uploaded by CuriosityStream, 14 March 2017,
4. "What is Predictive Analytics Data Mining." YouTube, uploaded by The Corporate Genie, 14 March 2017,
5. Duhigg, Charles. The Power of Habit. Random House. 2012, 2014.

6. "Big Data Revolution." from NPR, 1 March 2017,