All Day Online and I'm Only Worth a Quarter?

Kirsten Salyer writes about consumer culture for Bloomberg View and is the site's engagement editor. She has also written for Condé Nast Traveler, Texas Monthly and Houston Community Newspapers. She has a bachelor's degree in journalism and international studies from Northwestern University.
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In light of the discovery of just how much data the government has collected on Americans, the Financial Times poses the question all of us suddenly discovered we need to know the answer to: How much is your personal data worth?

According to their nifty interactive calculator, I am worth a whopping $0.266. An informal survey of my Bloomberg View colleagues brought in amounts ranging from $0.1691 to $1.0362.

Sure, I'm not a millionaire, I don't have a fireplace in my home, I'm not a cruise enthusiast and -- most crushing to my value -- I don't have any serious health conditions. I did have to admit I search online about topics including food, travel, and (for sake of full transparency) gossip. Surely that counts for something?

Apparently not much. The FT reports that general information about a person is worth only about $0.50 for every 1,000 people. More personal details equal more fractions of a dollar.

What does this mean for companies looking to trade in this data? The statistics are a lot more valuable in aggregate, and individuals are a lot more valuable when they're looking to buy something, or if they have health problems. But overall, it's pretty tricky for companies to make a profit selling people's Google searches and purchase histories.

Social media influence, though, may be a way to stand out from the crowd. A person with a big following on Twitter, Facebook and other social networks can be more appealing to companies. (Just look at how much companies pay these celebrities to tweet about their brands.)

The social-media monitoring company Klout scores your social-media prowess, and marketers can offer deals for people based on their numbers. (My Klout score has qualified me for $20 off a Zazzle iPhone case and a free subscription to Norton Mobile Security.) There are also black-market sites where you can appraise how much your Twitter account would be worth to sell. According to the site Twalue, my Twitter account is worth $1,471.40.

Individuals' social interactions with brands can also translate into worth. Syncapse, a social intelligence company, valued a Facebook "like" on a brand's page at $174.17 in an April study of 2,000 Facebook users who like a brand. The idea: Liking something online makes you more likely to buy from that brand or in that sector.

For someone like me who spends a good chunk of the day online, it's kind of fun (read: terrifying) to think about what companies would pay for a peek inside my phone and browser history. And the best part of the FT's experiment? "The Financial Times will not collect, store or share the data you enter into the calculator."

Like that really matters at this point.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.