What is Your Digital Information Worth To Online Companies?

I feel a bit dirty. A little uneasy. In fact I feel violated. I’m not quite sure how to handle it, or how I feel about it all.

The worst part about it is there’s really not much I can do about any of it.

Let me explain by telling you what happened to me yesterday…

I bought a new laptop for my wife Hayley last week. It was a Lenovo Yoga 700. One of those ‘convertible’ laptop/tablets. A pretty nifty laptop, good specs, a good price. The only downside is it came with Windows 10.

The thing was crashing all the time. Hayley had been the only one using it, and she hated it. The ‘blue screen of death’ would appear on a daily basis. It would freeze or do strange things without any seeming input. It was pure rubbish.

She was furious. I was too. This was a new computer. Yet even after installing updates, drivers, and restarting the thing, it was a sub-par product. Yesterday we sent it back.

Luckily I bought it through Amazon. I went into my Amazon account and chose to get a refund. I printed off the return label and stuck it on the box with the contents inside. Note: I factory reset the machine first, destroying any files that were on there.

I then dropped it off at a Collect+, shop and the refund was underway. Within two hours Amazon had confirmed my return and processed my refund. Now that’s what you call customer service!

I then decided the best course of action was to get Hayley a MacBook. She’s used mine on several occasions and been fine with it. MacOS is user friendly, she loves it so that’s what we went with. I jumped online and ordered her a MacBook Air through Debenhams Plus (the online store of the UK retail giant, Debenhams).

This, however, isn’t a story about laptops. It was what happens next that blew me away.

You cannot proceed without giving up your privacy

I processed my order and it was confirmed. I made the payment on my credit card. As far as I was concerned no problems, all done. Usually if there’s any kind of concerning activity on my credit card, American Express will call me and find out.

But minutes after placing the order for the MacBook I got a call from Debenhams Plus.

The customer service person wanted me to answer some security questions. My order wouldn’t compete without it. I’m pretty switched on to internet and phone scams, hence my immediate reaction was that this was a scam.

The operator on the end of the line asked:

Hello is this Mr…Samuel Volkering?

Yes it is,

Hello Mr. Volkering this is [name omitted] from Debenhams Plus, I’m calling to just ask you a few security questions in order to process and complete your order.

Um, OK.

I was reticent to give any information away. I let her continue. She asked what for the registered names at the address on the electoral roll.

I gave her my name. Apparently I’m (still) not registered at this address. But someone else is. I’m certain it’s the former tenant. We (still) get mail for her from the electorate, even though we regularly send it back.

I failed the ‘electoral roll security question’. Then she asked if I had a landline at the address. I said no, we don’t. Who uses a landline anymore?

She then asked if I had a work number. I said no. Again, I don’t have one. It’s all through my mobile. That’s how the modern world works.

Then she asked me if I had a Facebook profile or LinkedIn profile. And that’s when I lost my bundle…

When placing an order for a computer I don’t mind giving the company my address and phone number. At least that way they know where to send it and who to call for updates.

But I was not happy my social networks were now used for ‘security’.

Why do you need my Facebook or LinkedIn information?’

For security sir, to make sure you’re the person who placed the order for the MacBook.

But I used my credit card, if there’s a fraud problem they’ll contact me. And because it’s me, they’re not going to have a problem. So again, why do you need my Facebook information or LinkedIn information?

We can’t process the order without completing the security check.

If I don’t give you some of this information will I get my order?

No sir, I have to complete the security check to complete the order.

At this point I had one of two choices. Pay £100 more for the MacBook elsewhere, or give her the info. I felt cornered and vulnerable.

Then again, my Facebook profile is completely locked. She wouldn’t be able to get anything there anyway. I would also fail that test, too.

To get the computer tomorrow as I thought I’d already achieved, I would have to give my LinkedIn info. Luckily it only says where I work, my job title and my university. It’s all publicly available anyway — so I gave her that.

As I gave her my LinkedIn profile, I could hear her on her keyboard checking out my info on LinkedIn. It felt strange. I mean I’ve got a fair bit of info out on the publicly accessible web. But this just was awkward. It felt like a violation of my privacy.

My data is worth £100

And it made me think, what is our privacy worth? How much value do you place on your personal data? Is your Facebook profile locked to external people? LinkedIn? Any social networks secure?

What price did I put on the data I had to give her? £100 pounds.

Would I have done it for less? Yes, probably. Where would I draw the line, though? I guess it all depends on the type of information I would be willing to give up.

This is the world we live in today. Where digital information about us floats around everywhere. People usually give it away for free. Companies know this, and have built successful businesses on ‘data skimming’. This collects all your information online to profile you. They then sell this to advertising companies. Or use it for their own gain.

Our information is worth something. We might think it’s not, but it is.

It’s worth a lot really, but we (even I) need to value it more. Somehow we need to stop giving corporations our information for free. They make monetary gain from it, but it’s not theirs to use. It’s ours. When was the last time you were given a reward for logging in somewhere with Facebook? Never? Of course never.

Imagine a business that gives you a discount for every bit of information you give them. I’d use that business. Millions would. Eventually, other businesses would have to follow.

Monetary reward for data is what I call a business opportunity. Whoever can find a way to act on it first and reward us for our personal data might become an incredibly wealthy operation.

Until then we must all try to do our best to stop giving information away for free.


Sam Volkering,

For Markets and Money

Ed Note: This article was originally published in Money Morning.

Sam Volkering is contributing Editor for Markets & Money. He’s also Editor at Money Morning, where he’s the in-house small-cap, tech and cryptocurrency expert. Sam has had a varied a career in economics, finance and financial advice. He’s advised high net-worth individuals on how to invest their wealth and how to best navigate the turmoil-ridden world we live in. After tapping out of the financial planning world, Sam decided to join us and dedicate his working life to finding the most life-changing investment opportunities that exist in the world today. Today he travels the world speaking to and grilling the who’s-who of the investment world. He spends every waking hour uncovering the latest microcap and small-cap stocks, the most revolutionary technologies and the next big opportunities in cryptocurrencies. If you’d like to learn about the specific investments Sam is recommending, you can take a 30-day trial of his small-cap investment advisory Australian Small-Cap Investigator here or a 30-day trial of his industry leading cryptocurrency service, Sam Volkering’s Secret Crypto Network, here. But if that’s not enough, Sam also hunts down revolutionary technology companies. He recommends the best ones he finds in his breakthrough technology investment service, Revolutionary Tech Investor. If the best companies exist in Australia, Sam will find them. If they’re in Silicon Valley, Frankfurt or Tokyo, Sam will find them there too. To find out more about how Revolutionary Tech Investor can help you profit from world-changing opportunities, click here to take a 30-day no-obligation trial today. Websites and financial e-letters Sam writes for: Money Morning Australian Small-Cap Investigator Sam Volkering’s Secret Crypto Network Revolutionary Tech Investor Microcap Trader

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