Who should own the value in personal data?

Whole businesses are built on the gathering and use of personal data. Google wouldn’t exist without this simple value proposition for example. The quid pro quo is that by allowing Google to use our personal data, we get to use their products and services for free. But is that a fair exchange?

For Erik Rind, CEO of personal data firm, ImagineBC thinks that the technology behemoths have been getting away with it for far too long, here he gives us a reality check.


Recently, Senator Blackburn of Tennessee, headlined an opinion piece in Fox News stating that “BigTech sees YOU as the product”. Though not necessarily correct, headlines such as Senator Blackburn’s are extremely important because they create a broader awareness among the general public of the “legal con” that Big Tech has been getting away with now for well over two decades.

There is an old adage in poker rooms that if you can’t spot the sucker at the table when you sit down to play, then you are the sucker. Well, that adage applies pretty closely to the current environment which encompasses the monetization of our personal information.

In 2018, companies spent $235 billion on advertising in the United States, an industry which is entirely fuelled by our personal information. Bearing that in mind, can anyone reading this article produce evidence of having received a single dime of the $235 billion that was spent using your data? So, in the game of monetization of personal information, who is the sucker?

In 2018, companies spent $235 billion on advertising in the United States, an industry which is entirely fuelled by our personal information.  

The appetite of Big Tech for our information is seemingly endless, don’t believe me, then perhaps you will believe Apple CEO, Tim Cook, who recently labeled tech giants such as Facebook and Google, who harvest data to better target advertisements, “the data industrial complex”.

The debate Senator Blackburn should be focused on is not about privacy but about control. No government official can ever make the promise that they can push through legislation that will return the personal information that has since been lost. The overriding issue, rather, centres on control. As a representative of the people, Sen. Blackburn ought to focus his energies on how “We the People” can regain control of one of our most valuable personal assets and benefit from the revenue produced from it.

We should not wait idly for Congress to solve this problem for us. As we collectively look for answers we need not look far as history is, as always, the best teacher. Our battle for control of our personal information is not dissimilar to the battle waged over a century ago against the robber barons of Gilded Age. The weapon used to curb the power of this elite class was the power of numbers represented by the rise of organized labor.

As Martin Luther King Jr. wrote: “the labor movement was the principal force that transformed misery and despair into hope and progress.” And as Thomas R. Donahue stated: “The only effective answer to organized greed is organized labor.” The battle over control of our information is the same.

Let’s face it, retailers invest their money where they think they have the best chance to reach the “eyeballs” that will purchase their products. A large community of individuals who are willing to consume an advertiser’s message because they each know they will be fairly compensated for the use of their data and their time, offers retailers a superior alternative to today’s advertising models.

A consumer within an organized community will be anxious to receive offers because they know they are in control of when they wish to participate with the advertiser’s message and that they will be fairly compensated by the advertiser for their participation. This intrinsic interaction between retailer and consumer will help create reciprocity between consumer and retailer.

Such a community will also provide a vibrant alternative marketplace for individuals to sell their intellectual property directly to other members of the community bypassing traditional 3rd parties.

At a time when investment by Big Tech in AI/ML and robotics is potentially going to wipe out or significantly alter millions of jobs, it is absurd for individuals to be giving their time and intellectual property away for free.

I’m not sure how we got to where we are today, but before sites like YouTube existed, when someone created something of value, they expected to be paid fair value for their creation. YouTube has somehow convinced us all that we must first offer our intellectual property freely to the public through their platform, and then YouTube will decide how much compensation you will receive.

At a time when investment by Big Tech in AI/ML and robotics is potentially going to wipe out or significantly alter millions of jobs, it is absurd for individuals to be giving their time and intellectual property away for free.

Although I appreciate the efforts of Senator Blackburn to help call attention to the importance of how our personal information is being misused, we cannot rely solely on the government to help resolve this issue. We must take action together, just as organized labor did at the turn of the 20th century. We must collectively demand that advertisers compensate us rather than big tech for use of our personal information. The time for action is now!


Erik Rind, CEO,  ImagineBC

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