The Business of Harvesting Your Data

It all started with a simple phone call.

It was from a man in Arizona and his neighbour, who was helping him out.

While they had been packing up the house, they had found a signed Los Angeles Lakers poster in the garage. It looked like a collector’s item, so they wanted someone to appraise it.

Once the auctioneer arrived at the Arizona home, he estimated the poster was worth about US$300.

But the big surprise came when he saw some ‘weird’ art in the garage’s corner.

The paintings were from the man’s estranged half-sister, Jennifer.

Considered the black sheep of the family, she had passed away back in the 1990s, in New York.

His half-brother had then travelled to the big apple to take care of her affairs. He had shipped her things back to Arizona and had kept them in the garage since.

It turns out that Jennifer had been a New York socialite. She had rubbed elbows with the rich and famous, including art critics Clement Greenberg and Peggy Guggenheim.

The pile of paintings included works from the likes of Kenneth Norland and Jules Olitski, among others.  Yet the jewel was a painting that the auctioneer believed to be from Jackson Pollock

According to the appraiser, it had the potential to fetch up to US$15 million in auction.

Much like Jennifer’s paintings, we are just only starting to realize how valuable our data is.

Facebook is in the eye of the storm

Facebook is suffering backlash in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

According to research from The New York Times and The Observer, Cambridge Analytica got access to data through a third-party app back in 2014.

The problem is that while only 270,000 users took the app’s personality test — which claimed it was for academic purposes — the app also got access to the test taker’s friends’ data. Which means they ended up collecting data from around 50 million people.

It looks like Cambridge Analytica used that data to build personality profiles for targeted advertising during the US presidential campaign. That is, they did not only use your demographics and your background, but your personality traits to get the message further.

Facebook shares [NASDAQ:FB] are down 13.9% since 16 March. 

While I understand the uproar, this is hardly a surprise.

No, those ‘free’ quizzes on Facebook are not really trying to help you determine your personality. They are trying to access your data.

As soon as you get to Facebook’s homepage, the first thing you see is, ‘Create a new account. It’s free and always will be.

How can a free social media platform have a US$460 billion valuation and have US$12.97 billion in revenues in 2017’s last quarter?

Well, with your data. Facebook give companies access to all of their users and the data that they publish.

I mean, that’s the deal you are making when you sign up. You may not be exchanging money, but it is a transaction made with data. Your data.

The problem is, you are probably not aware of how much data you are giving Facebook…or of Facebook’s ability to put all that data together to create your profile.

Facebook knows everything about you…

A while ago, I asked Facebook for a copy of the data they keep from my account. By the way, anyone can do this.

I don’t post often. So, it was a surprise to see the large amounts of data they hold on me. It is not only photos or posts, but everything and anything you do on the platform. Even conversations that voice your thoughts and ideas with family and friends.

If you have the app on your phone, they can even piece more together. They can tell where you are going and who you are talking to.

They can even get estimates on how much money you make.

It is a marketer’s dream. A gold mine for anyone looking for data, the way people interact, or looking to measure how people react to things.

That’s why marketers have been pouring into Facebook in recent years.

And that’s why big data and artificial intelligence are gaining ground. You need them to analyse the large amounts of data sent.

In a way, Facebook is a mere intermediary.

As for what companies do with your data…well, nobody really knows.

The fact is, the market for your data is there, and it is very valuable.

After the Cambridge Analytica scandal, people are now calling to regulate Facebook.

The ‘#deletefacebook’ campaign on Twitter is gaining ground.

Yet, where will everyone flock to?

Instagram? Whatsapp? They are both owned by Facebook. And even without these, there are still plenty of other apps waiting to harvest your data.

In our case, there is no auctioneer to tell us how much we can fetch for our data.

It’s up to you to determine how much of your data you are willing to pay for the exchange of these services…and how much your data is worth.

Kind regards,

Selva Freigedo,
Editor, Markets & Money


Selva Freigedo is an analyst with a background in financial economics. Born and raised in Argentina, she has also lived in Brazil, the US and Spain. She has seen economic troubles firsthand, from economic booms to collapses and the ravaging effects of hyperinflation, high unemployment, deposit freezes and debt default. Selva now writes from her vantage point here in Australia. She is lead Editor at the daily e-letter Markets & Money. And every week, she goes through each report and research note produced by our global network of trusted advisors to find the best investment opportunities for you in Australia and overseas. She packages these opportunities for you in Global Investor.


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