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Grad Students Tracks His Online Moves, Looks To Sell Data

May 15, 2013
Originally published on May 16, 2013 9:50 am

You know you're being tracked by marketers online. But instead of fighting it, a grad student in New York decided to sell his personal data directly.

It wasn't hard to get hold of Federico Zannier. His phone number and email are right on his website. For a couple of bucks, I could have learned a lot more about him.

For 50 days, Zannier recorded every website he visited, every chat conversation he had, every mouse movement. He even tracked where he walked and took a picture of himself using his computer every 30 seconds. He's selling that trove of personal information for $2 a day or $250 for the whole lot.

"In the market, people are making money with my personal data, and as a provocation, I said, 'OK, I want to try to make money with my own data.' "

He's not expecting any marketers to pay up. This is a thesis project for his New York University grad program. Alhough, more than 115 people have already bought some of his data on the crowd funding site Kickstarter.

So, is $2 a good deal? Zannier isn't sure.

"I don't know. It just was a random number."

But Jaron Lanier, the author of Who Owns the Future? says he thinks Zannier is undercharging.

Research firm eMarketer says online advertisers are spending about 48 cents a day just to advertise to you, but that doesn't count all your data that are bought and sold behind your back.

Lenier says Zannier is on to something: We're going to want to sell our own data.

"This is the inevitable future," Lanier says. "We have to sell our information someday. There's no other way."

But Zannier says he just wanted to shine a light on the tracking. He isn't necessarily critical. Heck, his dream job is to work for Amazon.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

We all know we're being targeted by online marketers. Well, instead of fight it, why not profit from it? One New York University grad student is trying to sell his online self. NPR's Dan Bobkoff has our Last Word In Business.

DAN BOBKOFF, BYLINE: It wasn't hard to get hold of Federico Zannier. His phone number and email are right on his website. For a couple of bucks, I could have learned a lot more about him.

For 50 days, Zannier recorded every website he visited, every chat conversation he had, every mouse movement. He even tracked where he walked and took a picture of himself, using his computer, every 30 seconds. He's selling that trove of personal information for $2 a day, or $250 for the whole lot.

FEDERICO ZANNIER: In the market, people are making money with my personal data; and as a provocation, I said OK, I just want to try to make money with my own data.

BOBKOFF: He's not expecting any marketers to pay up. This is a thesis project for his NYU grad program - though more than 115 people have already bought some of his data on the crowdfunding site Kickstarter. So is $2 a good deal? Zannier isn't sure.

ZANNIER: I don't know. It just was a random number.

JARON LANIER: I think he's undercharging.

BOBKOFF: Jaron Lanier is the author of "Who Owns the Future?" Research firm eMarketer says online advertisers are spending about 48 cents a day just to advertise to you, but that doesn't count all your data that's bought and sold behind your back. Lanier says Zennier is onto something. We're going to want to sell our own data.

LANIER: This is the inevitable future. We have to sell our information someday. There's no other way.

BOBKOFF: But Zannier, the grad student, says he just wanted to shine a light on the tracking. He isn't necessarily critical. Heck, his dream job is to work for Amazon.

Dan Bobkoff, NPR News, New York.

GREENE: It won't cost you a thing to find us on Twitter, @nprinskeep, @nprgreene and @MORNING EDITION. That's the business news on MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.