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Study Determines Personal Data Worth via Android App

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?

Kevin started taking PCs apart in the 90s when Quake was on the way and his PC lacked the required components. Since then, he’s loved all things PC-related and cool gadgets ranging from the New Nintendo 3DS to Android tablets. He is currently a contributor at Digital Trends, writing about everything from computers to how-to content on Windows and Macs to reviews of the latest laptops from HP, Dell, Lenovo, and more. 

  • glarimore
    How much is my data worth? Enough that I'm not signing up for this crap...
  • freggo
    I have a feeling that George Clooney's personal data are valued higher as, say, mine... :-)
    How much a dataset is worth very much depends on the data source and the buyer as different products/services are aimed at a different market.
  • blazorthon
    I don't think that this will really do much of anything. How much we value our personal information might not be how much a company or governement would value it. Egotistical people will probably say they want exorbitant amounts of money for their data, people with little self esteem or whatever might not think it's worth much of anything. People with no understanding of this could have widely varying costs.

    All that this will tell us is how much the volunteers for this program think that their data is worth. Beyond that, it doesn't collect all of the same data that the companies and governments collect (for a good reason, to not infringe on privacy, but it means that this won't correlate to real data collection from companies and such even as poorly as it already seemed like it would).

    It's an interesting idea, but I seem to have failed to see the importance of what it will accomplish. I don't intend to sign up for it.
  • dalethepcman
    I think a better yet similar project would be to have a list of all the data a smartphone collects without your knowing (it's a lot) and randomly ask people about information from that list and if they would be willing to give that info to you via a yes / no prompt, then release a report on what smartphones are stealing without your consent that the average user would not be willing to part with.
  • snacnrsoa
    Never say never, there is always something to try.
  • I'm Bernadette, one of the researchers on the project. What we aim at with this project is not just getting an idea of actual prices that people demand. The questions also aim to understand what it is that drives those prices, what makes information more or less valuabel? But most of all we aim to generate awareness of the issue and to get the ball rolling. The more participants we get, the stronger our empirical argument. And yes in order to not infringe on privacy we are assessing an abstracted version of what apps often actually assess (e.g. you would tell us that you are out in the street rather than us knowing exactly where). This makes the project ethical. And it is sufficient to tell us what influence location, etc. has on the perceived value of information.

    The app really isn't time consuming (the longest is the initial questionnaire and it is not overly long either) and hope that you'll support us with a download.
    Any questions or comments, please contact us on
    We will also be running a workshop presenting some preliminary results in early June. If you would like to participate, let us know via the webpage.