London's Queen Mary University is currently investigating how people value their own personal data. To gather the information, researchers are asking volunteers to install a free Android app on their phone that will ask a series of questions over a two-week period. These questions will be personal in nature and overall emulate the very behavior that apps secretly take for granted every day.
"Nearly every step you take, physically and on the web, can be traced," the project states on the Queen Mary University website. "Many companies make use of your personal information, usually without a direct monetary benefit to the individual. One of their arguments is that people struggle to price the value of personal information. In other words: If it cannot be priced, it has to be free! In this project we want to find out about individuals perception on the value of different pieces of personal information."
While it seems that a research app collecting data on collecting personal data is somewhat contradictory, the research team, led by Dr Bernadette Kamleitner, PhDs in Psychology and Business and Dr Hamed Haddadi, PhD in Computer Networks, claims that the information is NOT collected or correlated in conjunction with the user's email address or any other Personally Identifiable Information (PII). The experiment is done in accordance with QMUL ethics code approval.
Over the course of two weeks, the Android app will pop up a daily message asking in generic terms via a drop down menu what the user is currently doing, how he/she feels about that and how much this information would be worth to him/her. This daily interrogation should take no more than 4 minutes (2 x 2 minutes) at a maximum. The message will also pop up at random times during the day, and volunteers are requested to make the daily report as soon as possible thereafter.
"Personal information is a huge and poorly regulated business," said Dr. Kamleitner. "Although consumers can benefit from the use of their information by receiving customized offers, others also use individual’s data to make money. We hope this project will help us to understand which information people consider more or less valuable to them, and will allow us to show whether people genuinely believe that 'personal information has no price.'"
Those who volunteer for the study have the chance to win one of 230 Amazon vouchers. The university will raffle 10 £100 vouchers, 20 £50 vouchers, 100 £20 vouchers and 100 £10 vouchers once the study is over. The app is currently available on Google Play here, requiring Android 2.1 "Eclair" and up. Permissions include full internet access, view network state, view Wi-Fi state and automatically start at boot.
"Your data will be treated entirely anonymous and the study has been ethically approved," the site reads. "We will never ask for your name, date of birth or other identifying information. Only in case you win a voucher will we need an email address so that we can send you the voucher but we will not combine this with your answers. The app asks for much less access rights than most apps in the market. To identify you we will use a random number as your userID and no information such as your IP or IMEI number will be used."
How much is your personal data worth?