When I started my research on Personal Data Markets in 2012 I believed that people should be given ownership rights to their private data. I was able to prove my belief in a major experiment. Together with Jana Korunovska, I studied more than 1000 Facebook users who all start to value their data (in monetary terms) only at the moment where they learn that there is a market for it. Moreover, users get very angry when they do not get control over their personal data.
Spiekermann, S. and J. Korunovska (2016)
"Towards a Value Theory for Personal Data."
Journal of Information Technology (JIT) 32(1): 62-84.
Seen my belief in personal data ownership rights I developed a market-model for personal data markets, together with Alexander Novotny. Together we interviewed the ‘who-is-wo’ of the privacy-world to test our model, which describes how personal data markets could be designed in such a way that personal data is traded, but under fair conditions for the natural owners of the data subjects.
Spiekermann, S. and A. Novotny (2015)
"A vision for global privacy bridges: Technical and legal measures for international data markets."
Computer Law and Security Review 31(2): 181-200.
How difficult and conflict-laden such an idea is in practice though - also from a legal and ethical point of view - became clear to me when I worked with my colleagues Alessandro Acquisti and Rainer Böhme on a special issue on Personal Data Markets in the journal Electronic Markets. The joint reflection on the challenges of such markets has started to cloud my ideas on property rights.
Spiekermann, S., A. Aquisti, R. Böhme and K.-L. Hui (2015)
"The challenges of personal data markets and privacy."
Electronic Markets 25(2): 161–167.
I then started a project with the Viennese privacy activist Wolfie Christl, with whom I co-edited his research on personal data markets in a book: 'Networks of Control'.
Christl, W. and S. Spiekermann (2016)
Networks of Control - A Report on Corporate Surveillance, Digital Tracking, Big Data & Privacy
The book Networks of Control illustrates the point that Shoshana Zuboff is making in her book on surveillance capitalism as well: Using personal data as a commodity means to commoditize mankind and turn men and women into resources for economic profit. Against this background I cannot pursue the idea of ownership rights for personal data any longer. My ultimate ethical view is that any communication between people should never be commercialized on principle.