How much would you pay for privacy?

I’m a security consultant, and so a professional paranoiac. Most of the time I defend my personal information like a rabid pitbull. But I’m also a cyclist, and as a consequence I’m happy to share my location, heart rate, sleep patterns, step count, cycling habits, height, weight, body fat content and a whole range of other highly-sensitive information with several websites.


Because I value what they do with the data more highly than I assess the risk that they’ll misuse it. I use a combination of Microsoft Health, Strava and Garmin Connect, plus various gadgets, to track my cycling training. I take the whole thing quite seriously, and being able to correlate achieved performance with sleep data, hydration levels, rest heart rate and so on helps me focus my training effectively. I can’t afford a professional cycling coach (and it would be ridiculous in any case – I’m just not that good) so this is a good substitute.

On the other hand, I don’t really care about music. It’s agreeable background; I know what I like, and it’s convenient to have it available when desired. So we have a Spotify Premium account (or did). But when Spotify tell me they want access to my location data, activity information and even photos in order, according to them, to make better personalised recommendations, I see red. Even if I believed that this unfettered access to my personal data would provide perfect suggestions for new tracks, it wouldn’t be worth it. The fact that it almost certainly won’t just makes it far worse, since I know this is in fact a land grab to increase the equity value of Spotify by allowing better targeted ads.

What’s interesting is what Spotify aren’t doing. They offer apologies, but no options. If this was genuinely about recommendations, they could offer you the option not to share the data, in return for not receiving the improved suggestions. Or not to receive recommendations at all. Or they could make it explicit, and ask me to pay extra to use the service without providing all this usefully marketable data. I accept that services cost money to run, and that if a service is free, it’s not the product – you are. But Spotify Premium isn’t free, so as far as I’m concerned I’m not trading privacy for value, I’m trading money for value. If it’s not enough money, then raise the price until it is – or until you find the point at which the market is telling you to cut costs instead.

I expect that the first “freemium” provider who makes paying for privacy explicit will face a terrific backlash, but in reality they’ll only be exposing the unpleasant truth behind the internet economy. At the moment we pay for too many services indirectly – by handing over personal data that the service provider effectively sells on to advertisers. The only way to work out what this data is actually worth is by looking at revenues or market valuations.

So – would you pay $16 a year[1] for Facebook, in return for no ads and proper control over your data?

Would you pay $0.05[2] for a Google search?

What’s your privacy worth to you?

[1] Based on revenues of $16bn and 1bn active users

[2] Based on ad revenue of $60bn 1.2tn annual searches

3 thoughts on “How much would you pay for privacy?

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