Personal data: Surfing the Internet comes with a catch: our every click is recorded, and information about our interests, habits, and purchases is used to show us more ads.
We are the product, in other words. In a recent report (pictured), the World Economic Forum called the trail of data we leave behind on the Web an exploding an “asset class” and declared personal data “the new oil of the 21st Century.” Pumping it are companies like Google, whose $37.9 billion in 2011 revenues was based almost entirely on knowing what we search for.
But what if we didn’t give all our data away? One startup, Personal, has created what it calls “data vaults” in which people can organize personal information—from vacation plans to checking account numbers. The company intends to launch an online marketplace where people can selectively sell access to their data. It might not be worth much on an individual basis, however. The 845 million people on Facebook earned the company $3.71 billion in revenue last year—or $4.39 a person.