It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone now that Facebook, like most other free services on the internet, makes money off our data. We get to use the website for free, while it gathers information about us and shows us ads.
This begs a truly 21st century existential question. What is our digital self worth? Can we put a dollar value on it? Here's an attempt.
Find out how much stuff you've uploaded on the Facebook website. The company will send you a file with all your data. Here’s how to get it.
My file is 135 megabytes and it’s all there. All 13½ years I have been on Facebook. Every message sent, friend friended, photo uploaded. The events I registered for, attended or missed. When I entered my relationship after college and when that relationship ended many years later. There is even a record of every ad I’ve clicked on, mostly by accident. And ads that made some rather personal assumptions, like for engagement rings (which I did not click on).
The file is chock-full of goodies: all the selfies with the ex-girlfriend, the self-promotional posts, and the inane comments I decided to share with the world. I can see every little action on my timeline. Apparently at 1:22 p.m. on March 6, 2008, I was “making cute little profile changes.” Cute.
Matt Hogan is the CEO of Datacoup, a site where you can actually sell your own data directly to advertisers. I asked Hogan if we could break down how much money we make for Facebook with each piece of information we post. What’s the value of, say, uploading a photo or liking someone’s post?
Not much individually, Hogan said.
“Any one of the things that are providing value without the other makes the whole set not nearly as valuable,” he said. Facebook ties a whole bunch of data points to my identity in a way that no one else has done, Hogan said.
“It’s data that really doesn’t exist as an amalgam anywhere else,” Hogan said.
So what’s this “amalgam” worth? Well, Hogan says one way to look at it is to break down how much money Facebook makes per user.
Hogan says to first take Facebook's total revenue, about $40 billion last year, and divide it by the number of active users. Then give extra weight to our accounts because we’re Americans — he said advertisers want our data because we’re wealthier than average and have more buying power. Hogan figures American profiles to be about five times as valuable as the average Facebook profile.
When you crunch the numbers, Hogan said, the average American Facebook user is worth about $200 a year.
Two hundred dollars ... and to think of all those hours I spent uploading stuff onto Facebook. If the company paid me for that work, I’d make only a couple of cents an hour. But of course Facebook doesn’t pay us for what we put on our pages. It makes money on our data, just like Google, Twitter and most other free internet services. One notable exception out of the big internet services is Wikipedia, which is why they ask you for donations.
Christian Lange is CEO of Opiria, another company where you can sell your personal data directly. “If you don’t pay for it,” he said, “then you are the product, and this is exactly what’s happening on Facebook.”
Lange thinks we should at least make some money off our private information. Right now, most of us are giving it away for free every single day.