Data is as good as gold these days, and Americans are creating a lot more of it than they likely realize. During 2020, for example, it’s estimated that the typical person created 1.7 megabytes of data every single second of every day.
It’s extremely valuable, too, and many companies are willing to shell out billions to get their hands on it—utilizing such data to help brands target potential customers is the bread-and-butter of companies like Google and Meta, after all. Gathering and selling personal or consumer data has even spawned an entire industry of data brokers, which itself is worth hundreds of billions of dollars, and includes companies such as Experian and Spokeo.
In short: Your data is valuable. So, how much would the typical person be willing to sell it for, if they could, say, put it up for auction?
We have a ballpark figure: The average American shopper would be willing to sell their personal data for $1,452.25, according to survey data from CouponBirds, a coupon and consumer information website.
The survey comprised responses from more than 3,500 consumers in the United States, and the CouponBirds team was also able to break down the data by state—they found that people in Colorado would hypothetically ask the most for their personal data, at more than $2,800. Conversely, people in Tennessee ask the least: $623.04.
From that data set, here are the states where people would ask the most and least for their personal data, if it were to hypothetically go up for auction:
States with the highest values:
States with the lowest values:
Evidently, states in parts of the West and Midwest place a premium on their data, something that seems to mesh with the ingrained sense of individualism in those parts of the country. But this brings up another key question: How should Americans value their personal data? While few if any people actually have the choice of handing over their data for cash, it is changing hands. Is $1,450 a fair price?
It depends, and may be impossible to say. Some people’s data is worth more than others. Men’s personal data tends to be worth more, for instance, according to a 2020 analysis from Mackeeper, and young adults’ data (ages 18-24) is the highest-valued.
There’s also been some research into what people would need to be paid to stop using online services like search engines or social media networks—which effectively act as data vacuums. It would take more than $17,500 per year to incentivize the average person to stop using Google, and more than $500 annually to get them to deactivate their Facebook account.
For those who want to get off of Big Data’s wild ride altogether, there isn’t a whole lot that you can do. Data brokerages are operating in a largely unregulated space, and fighting back would require a lot of effort. But the key takeaway is to know that your data is out there, it has value, and is probably more valuable than you think. And, again, whoever has it can do almost anything they want with it, without notifying you.
“Within the law, anyone could be doing pretty much anything with your data,” Bennett Cyphers, a staff technologist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, recently told Fast Company. “And they don’t have to tell anyone about it.”