A better system would be for us to compile a dossier about ourselves and our families, including birthdays and anniversaries, favourite authors and music, need for loans or mortgages, and what big purchases are under consideration. We would own that information and could give it or even sell it to companies who wanted our business. If the information was good enough, and used intelligently and sparingly, it could save a lot of time, effort and money.
That is the fantasy that companies hint at when they ask us to provide information, but we aren’t providing enough detail for them to send us much that we would really want to receive. Nor do we trust them enough to tell them more.
All that might be changed by agents who would manage our personal information on our behalf. This information agent would pay us for the privilege, and forward us offers in which we might genuinely be interested. The companies making those offers wouldn’t see our details – they would simply know that they were reaching 20 or 200, or 200,000 people with the characteristics they desire. We could be much more detailed in our dealings with the agent, specifying a desire for more offers, fewer offers, levels of confidentiality and an expiry date on the information.
A loyal reader now writes to tell me he is trying to do exactly this. I am encouraged to see theory put into practice. But will I be signing up? Not yet.
There is also the question of how a private company can survive buying and selling your data, when the government is giving it away for free…