Should Individuals Be Able to Monetize Personal Data? - Fordham Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal
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Should Individuals Be Able to Monetize Personal Data?

Should Individuals Be Able to Monetize Personal Data?

As of October 2018, European consumers can profit off of their personal data.1 Wibson, a blockchain-based decentralized data marketplace, allows European consumers securely and easily monetize their personal data.2 Wibson operates as follows: consumers download the Wibson app and then are given a choice of what information they are willing to share.3 Mobile device data, health information, social media data—which often includes email addresses, names and location—can all be garnered for sale.4 The consumer then lists the items of their choice and is able to choose between offers from big data firms.5 Once a sale is agreed to, the seller’s encrypted data is then transferred to the buyer.6 Users may also choose to sell data anonymously if concerned about their privacy.7

In the United States, there is growing concern surrounding how much information consumers are inadvertently sharing via E-commerce websites, Google, and social media platforms such as Instagram and Facebook8, and how companies are massively profiting from selling that information to big data firms without consumers’ knowledge.9 The question arises as to whether consumers in the U.S. should be able to sell their data, too.

One possible solution to consumer concern about where and how their data is being collected, sold, and used is to give people greater control by granting them ownership of their data and the right to sell or restrict the use it as they see fit.10 There are several arguments for and against individuals being able to turn their data into a marketable commodity.

Those for this approach believe that it would allow consumers to protect their privacy and benefit monetarily from sharing data of their choosing.11 Furthermore, it would lead to a greater dissemination of data, resulting in increased competition. Companies like Google and Facebook currently have a tremendous competitive advantage from the data they collect.12 However, if consumers had ownership rights over their data, they could sell it to multiple firms, stimulating competition. This would also likely lead to greater innovation. For example, being able to sell personal health data gathered from wearable technology along with information about your age, sex, family heritage, education, and lifestyle may lead to advanced medical understanding, targeted research, and, ultimately, new life-saving technology.

Those against this approach believe that it may end up enticing people into selling more personal data than is already being captured through their online habits, thus giving up even more privacy.13 And for what price? Consumers are unlikely to ever know the true value of their data. Since it does not seem feasible for individuals to be able to choose exactly who to sell their data to and for what use, it would have to be sold generally to a data marketplace, at a price determined by data collectors.14 Although, to be fair, consumers routinely click “I agree” without ever reading privacy policies, so it is tricky to argue that they truly value their data that highly. An alternate solution proposed by opponents of this approach is for the federal legislature to focus instead on restrictions on how companies currently collect, sell, and use data and making sure there is greater transparency, so that consumers understand the implications of clicking “I agree.”15

Ultimately, there are several key challenges to commoditizing personal data in this way, including the difficulty of valuing personal data, the need to develop markets, and determining which rights companies would have with respect to the data.16 However, these are challenges that come along with any marketable commodity, and with consumers’ growing use of technology and companies’ growing reliance on personal data, these challenges are sure to work themselves out in due time.


  1. Joe Wallen, As Of Today, European Consumers Can Profit From Selling Their Own Personal Data, Forbes (Oct. 11, 2018), https://www.forbes.com/sites/joewalleneurope/2018/10/11/european-consumers-can-now-profit-from-selling-their-own-personal-data/#2c17e0a055fe. [https://perma.cc/AN8X-4RGQ]

  2. Id.

  3. Id.

  4. Id.

  5. Id.

  6. Id.

  7. Id.

  8. Cyrus Farivar, Teens take Instagram seriously — and it’s costing some of them their personal data, NBC News (Nov. 8, 2019), https://www.nbcnews.com/news/all/teens-take-instagram-seriously-it-s-costing-some-them-their-n1078541. [https://perma.cc/Q8KK-WXBZ]

  9. Steven Melendez & Alex Pasternack, Here are the data brokers quietly buying and selling your personal information, Fast Company (Mar. 2, 2019), https://www.fastcompany.com/90310803/here-are-the-data-brokers-quietly-buying-and-selling-your-personal-information. [https://perma.cc/28PK-WDXK]

  10. Christopher Tonetti & Cameron F. Kerry, Should Consumers Be Able to Sell Their Own Personal Data? The Wall Street J. (Oct. 13, 2019), https://www.wsj.com/articles/should-consumers-be-able-to-sell-their-own-personal-data-11570971600?mod=searchresults&page=1&pos=11. [https://perma.cc/Y4QA-53KK]

  11. Id.

  12. Melendez & Pasternack, supra note 9.

  13. Tonetti & Kerry, supra note 10.

  14. Id.

  15. Id.

  16. Id.

Chelsea Carpenter

Chelsea Carpenter is a second-year J.D. candidate at Fordham University School of Law and a staff member of the Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal. She is also a 1L advisor for Fordham’s Board of Student Advisors. She holds a B.A. in International Studies from the University of Michigan.