Q&A: Personal data as financial assets?


Thinking about how people might act in the future is part of Rachel Hatch’s job as research director at the Institute for the Future in Palo Alto, California. One of the areas it focuses on is the financial world, where Hatch believes what customers share online, from Facebook to purchases, could eventually become a financial asset.

“We are entering a world where people are starting to monetize their personalized data. Economists are starting to think in those terms, and people are starting to behave that way. The classic case study? Facebook. People create alternatives like [social network] Tsu, where the more you share increases your account balance. At this stage, it is quite early, on the scale of micro-payments.

We get more clarity on how much data we are inadvertently sharing with each other. But people are realizing that data is worth something, and you can start imagining financial balance sheets a decade from now. The financial advisor intake form may change to include it as an asset class. There may be strategies to monetize it that can be part of an overall plan.

Maybe when someone is settling an estate at the end of their life and figuring out how to distribute the digital assets. Currently, I would describe this field as focusing on the end of the human life cycle. This is where the attention is now. We are beginning to recognize it as something to pass on to your loved ones. This norm is starting to change culturally. Next is digital assets and what I can do with them.

It’s not about how to get into someone’s Dropbox of photos, it’s about how to use your digital assets smartly when you live and what that means.


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