Last week Andrew Yang announced his new ‘Data Dividend Project’ tasked with establishing data-as-property rights under privacy laws, such as CCPA, across the US. The movement is dedicated to taking back control of our personal data, and the idea that if we allow companies to use it, we should get paid for it. The program aims to put a little money in Americans’ pocket in exchange for their handing their information to corporations. This philosophy is something that we are passionate about at Alqami, as a previous project of ours was to pursue just this. However, questions still remain about how much is our data actually worth? How should this value be calculated? Is one demographic group worth more than another?

On its website there isn’t a huge amount of information about how the project is going to accomplish this but it seems like a big part of it is raising awareness and mobilizing people to be a more likely influence to law makers and to fight big companies or be able to request payment for data being used. While many details clearly need to be worked out, from what it seems Yang’s DDP is focused on getting the ‘data collectors’ to pay a dividend. However, this ignores the infinite and unknown web of data reselling that exists after it leaves the company that first permissioned it, as well as the large amount of companies whose applications are developed purely around monetising web scrapped data. While the big tech platforms such as Facebook and Google are the most familiar companies in the data market, they are just the tip of the iceberg. Additionally, it would overlook the fact that personal data isn’t generally valuable by itself as it becomes more useful when aggregated with others as it signals a broader trend. On top of that, a small one-time payment doesn’t seem to compensate the fact that personal data is persistently useful and has a long, unpredictable life.

At Alqami we prioritise transparency and believe there is a difference between having the right to know how your data is being collected and used and getting cash in your pocket from the companies collecting it. We are all benefiting in a big way from those big tech companies using our data; we get to use apps and services for ‘free’ and the providers get our data in exchange. They then use our data to improve the product and satisfy our preferences. For example, Google maps is free to use, it saves us time and stress. We’ve accepted the fact that they may be tracking or recording our movements as part of the ‘deal’ or information exchange, and most of us would rather give up that data than pay for the app. Similarly, with Google search, how much would you be willing to pay every single time you use the platform? With so much of our data already out there on the web, plus the fact that most of us will likely keep using the free apps we’ve enjoyed for years, could it be too late to try to fundamentally change the way this model works? We don’t think so, but the framework that needs to be developed to be able to reapportion some sort of monetary back to those users who originally provide it, will be a challenging problem to solve.

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