Precious Data

In a highly interconnected globalized world, data is everything. Regarding the economics of "big data," some people have called data the new oil. Companies get precious bits of information from us — which, more often than not, we give for free in exchange for some form of personalized web service, such as signing up for an email account.

“The defense of this practice is that these companies provide ‘free’ services, and that they deserve some reward for their innovation and ingenuity,” John Danaher, from NUI Galway's School of Law, told Digital Trends. “That may well be true, but I would argue that the rewards they receive are disproportionate."

Companies are able to collect data from consumers, whether it's direct personal information or behavioral in nature, through the different web services we make use of. Some might ask us to click on a few tick boxes or answer a CAPTCHA question, or even ask us personal questions — such as what we like in a relationship. The data we provide is used to train machine learning systems to perform their algorithms better.

So, one might ask: are we being cheated here? Should consumers get more from the data we share or provide to companies? Virtual reality (VR) pioneer Jaron Lanier certainly thinks so. In his book, Who Owns the Future?, he suggests a potential micropayment model.

Defining Useful Data

Under Lanier's micropayment scheme, for all data that companies find useful — like in perfecting machine learning algorithms that feed off that data — the person who provided the information should be given some form of recompense. It's a model similar to the existing one that Google and Apple have when it comes to content creators: these individuals get paid for a successful YouTube video, for instance, where success is defined by certain metrics.

In the same way, the most useful data can easily be determined using a formula that accounts for where the data originated and how important it was in training a system to perform certain functions. This means that the relative value of data would differ from one type to the next.

The rationale for such a scheme becomes even more convincing when you consider the future of employment in the face of growing intelligent automation. After all, aren't smart robots trained using data provided by humans? Together with universal basic income models, perhaps micropayment for data would help in covering for the jobs we may lose as a consequence of automation.

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