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« Bordering on crazy? | Main | Tom Ilube, Garlik »

How much is "my" data worth?

By davebirch posted Sep 4 2007 at 4:26 PM
[Dave Birch] When developing business cases for some kinds of identification and authentication products, it's difficult to round out the figures when no-one knows how to value personal data. How much is it actually worth? An interesting estimate comes from the loyalty world, where the Tesco Clubcard is the standard U.K. example. Tesco won't say how much Clubcard means in terms of additional revenue, but the impact in some stores is put as high as 12 per cent, enough to push an £800,000-a-week branch through the £1 million barrier. So if you divide the sales by the number of customers, you ought to get a rough estimate of the value of each customer's data. I don't think it's that simple though, because Tesco's additional sales are not down just to the value of the data, but the value of the processing they apply to it. Simply having a list of your groceries would deliver little value (although it might be scary in 20 years time when the government bump you down the NHS waiting list because of all the rubbish you ate when younger).

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Thinking about it did lead me to wonder if we couldn't find a simple "X quid per person" figure to use in planning, risk analysis and back-of-the-envelope calculations though. Over at Emergent Chaos, for example, there's a calculation based on the TJX breach that might provide a $20 rule-of-thumb figure. TJX announced a $118m setaside to deal with the loss of control of 45 million records, or around $3 per record (person, let's assume). Setting aside that journalists were apparently quoting nearly $200 per person loss, even assuming the worst case $1 billion in costs plus lawsuits, it's still on $21 per person. Other than data breaches, another useful rule-of-thumb figure, I reckon, might come from identity card fraud since an identity card is a much better representation of a persons identity than a credit card record. Luckily, one of the countries with a national smart ID card just had a police bust: in Malyasia, the police seized fake MyKad, foreign workers identity cards, work permits and Indonesian passports and said that they thought the fake documents were sold for between RM300 and RM500 (somewhere between $100 to $150) each. That gives us a rule-of-thumb of $20 for a "credit card identity" and $100, say, for a "full identity". Since we don't yet have ID cards in the U.K., I thought that fake passports might be my best proxy. Here, the police says that 1,800 alleged counterfeit passports recovered in raid in North London were valued at £1m. If we round it up to 2,000 fakes, then that's £500 each. This, incidentally, was the largest seizure of fake passports in the U.K. so far and vincluded 200 U.K. passports, which, according to police, are often considered by counterfeiters to be too difficult to reproduce. Not!

The point I actually wanted make is not that these figures a very variable, which they are, but that they're not comparing apples with apples. Hence the simplistic "what's your identity worth?" question cannot be answered with a simple number.

These opinions are my own (I think) and are presented solely in my capacity as an interested member of the general public [posted with ecto]


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I have a long runnning series on the cost of documents. I estimate the cost of quality docs (1st world, full set) to be around 1000 as a rule of thumb. This is not a scientific estimate, just a gut feel from reading many similar articles to the ones you posted over the years.

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