An Intel Survey stated that around 54% of people would be happy to exchange the personal data that their smart devices collect for money. Conversely, a far higher proportion (92%) stated that they are concerned about cyber-security and their personal data being hacked.
The report got me thinking about the ethics surrounding paying individuals for their personal information.
Back when I was a baked-bean-eating student scraping by on a tight budget, I made my pennies stretch by taking part in market research. Focus groups became a God-send for me. I was more than happy to exchange a few details and my opinion for money. If I were a cash-strapped student now with the option of earning some fast cash through selling the data my smart fridge had collected about me, I would probably take it. Mind you, if I had a smart fridge, I probably wouldn’t be that cash-strapped.
A key difference between market research and smart devices however is the information collected by the latter can be so much more personal. When I was taking part in focus groups, I could pick how I answered each question and leave bits of information out. Of course, this means their research would have been less than accurate, but I wasn’t concerned about that as a participant.
Smart devices, however, can track everything I do with them. From the moment they switch on, they open the door to a potential glut of data on my movements and behaviour. Especially if there’s more than one smart device in my home.
If I had a house filled with smart devices, they could potentially tell organisations how many times I have a hot drink, how warm or cold I prefer my bedroom, the quality of sleep I’ve had and how often I go grocery shopping. With these devices collecting data on every interaction I have with them, there is no way I can hide my behaviour from the companies behind them. This is a great thing in terms of collecting accurate data on someone… but it is a little unnerving.
Of course, if I was truly concerned about the data that could be collected on me, I could simply switch the devices off – or even throw them away. Many consumers like me could follow suit, we could vote with our feet and smart devices will simply not gain mainstream uptake. At the moment, the industry is still in its infancy, so smart device manufacturers will have to take this level of perceived intrusiveness into consideration when they do collect personal data.
Which brings me back to the ethics of paying consumers for their smart device data.
On one hand I can see that if these devices are going to be collecting information about me anyway, I might as well get some kind of compensation for it. But, equally, there are some undertones of bribery and coercion whenever you pay people for their private information.
Likewise, there is the question of how much my personal data is worth. The survey respondents must be aware that their data have some value, otherwise 92% of them wouldn’t have stated that they were concerned about the security of that data.
In order for me, and other consumers, to be able to answer this, we need far more information on what data can be collected and what it can be used for. Educating the public on what smart devices are capable of doing will equip them to make an informed decision over whether to buy these devices and whether to sign up for any data-sharing scheme.
Personally, if I knew that the data collected by my smart kettle could tell me how to make a better cup of tea, or track my liquid intake, I would be more keen to hand over my data – with or without compensation. Another way to convince me to sign up would be to offer a way for me to opt-out if I decided the data-sharing scheme wasn’t for me, and take my data with me.
A plethora of information
I haven’t yet mentioned the likes of Facebook and Amazon, who already have a plethora of personal information on me. They know who are my close friends and family, where I live, where I have lived, where I work and what I regularly buy. These sites have become a key part of my life, I use them almost daily, and in return, I know that I am handing them a lot of valuable information on my behaviour – for free.
Therefore, another question we could ask is whether smart devices are just a natural progression of what we already do online?
The loaded subject over whether or not consumers should be paid for their personal data comes at a sensitive time for the emerging smart device market. How smart device manufacturers answer it may determine whether the industry makes it and breaks into the mainstream. A move which, for many, would be priceless.
ging smart device market. How smart device manufacturers answer it may determine whether the industry makes it and breaks into the mainstream. A move which, for many, would be priceless.