Personal Information Economics

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Full Title or Meme

The idea that our Personal Information (PI) is an economic good has gained attention. Is that a good thing?


  • From the economic meaning of the term good as something of value comes the question whether all of life's pleasures should be valued in economic terms.
  • The meaning of Privacy is not the same in all situations.
  1. Privacy is the right to be let alone as defined in the late 19th century. [1]
  2. Privacy more recently has come to mean the right to hide User Information or behavior.

Opposing arguements

PI is an economic good

  • A New York Times Economic View opined that data has "value as an eonomic resource".[2] It is not clear why data about private people should ever become the economic property of a company, but that appears to be a common phenomonon.
    Data increasingly prowers innovation and it needs to be used for the public good. ... Data provides a record of what has already happened, but its main value comes from improving predictions. ... The buzzy refrain of the digital age is that "data is the new oil". ... When Celera mapped a gene first, it protected its(sic) intellectual property by requiring other firms to negotiate licensing agreements or pay high fees before using the dta. Years later the genes mapped by Celera led to many fewer innovations and commercial products than those that were immediately put in the public domain. ... Data's increasing value as an economic resource requires a new way of thinking.

PI must not be labled as an econmic good

In a Q&A session with Harvards's Elizabeth Renieris the question of data as an economic good was roundly disputed. If we focus on Privacy as the right to be let alone, then selling my data could impact others rights to control who can impinge on their attention.[3]
...blockchain-obsessed idealists, want to forge a future in which people can profit from their data. Elizabeth Renieris thinks that’s a dangerous idea. ...this idea of a transaction that actually extinguishes your rights in relation to that data is really dangerous, because you cannot imagine all the ways that could go wrong. ...If I sell “my” contact list to Facebook, the people in that list have no opportunity to consent to that. They don’t have any say in the matter.


  1. Warren and Brandeis The Right to Privacy (1890-12-15) Harvard Law Review
  2. David Deming, A Need to balance Privacy with Data Sharing. New York Times p. B5
  3. Jeff Benson, Data Ownership Is Dangerous