In a world of privacy-invading smartphone apps and government-grade spyware, keeping personal data personal online can seem like a difficult task. But could you make money by choosing to give away logs of your most intimate data?
Federico Zannier is trying to find out. Emails, chat logs, location data, browser history, screenshots—you name it, the New York-based software developer is selling it all. With a Kickstarter campaign launched earlier this month, Zannier, a 28-year-old Italian-born master’s student at NYU, is offering to hand over a day’s digital footprint for a measly $2. He says he “violated his own privacy” starting back in February for about 50 days straight, recording screenshots and webcam snaps of himself every 30 seconds and tracking his every footstep using GPS technology. He logged the address of each Web page he visited—storing some 3 million lines of text—and accumulated a massive trove of 21,124 webcam photos and 19,920 screen shots.
Zannier’s aim, somewhat paradoxically, is to take ownership of his own data by selling it. He points out that we often hand over our private data unwittingly, given that few people take the time to read the terms and conditions of apps and online services. Companies rake in millions of dollars selling our information to marketing firms while we receive little in return. But Zannier’s Kickstarter is not just out to make a statement about online privacy—he plans to use the funds to create a browser extension and a smartphone app that he says will help others sell their own data. “If more people do the same, I’m thinking marketers could just pay us directly for our data,” he writes on his Kickstarter page. “It might sound crazy, but so is giving all our data away for free.”"
Sounds like performance art to me. But I’m curious to see how it all works out.