We Already Know What Our Data Is Worth

New legislation would require tech companies like Facebook and Google to disclose the value of users’ data, but we don’t need laws to put a price on our autonomy

Colin Horgan
Published in
4 min readJun 26, 2019


Photo by Will Francis on Unsplash

OnOn Monday, U.S. Senators Mark Warner and Josh Hawley introduced what they’re calling the Designing Accounting Safeguards to Help Broader Oversight and Regulations on Data (or DASHBOARD) Act. The bill aims to do three main things: require tech companies to regularly disclose to users how their personal data are being used, which third parties that data is being shared with, and the value of the data people provide to platforms.

The final aspect of the bill is the one that’s generating headlines. That’s intentional — it’s even highlighted in bold in the bill’s one-page summary. But what would happen if we put a price on data?

To be clear, for Warner and Hawley, clarifying this monetary value isn’t about people getting paid for their data. As they outline, the purpose of disclosing the “true value” of data would be to provide transparency for users and increase competition in the sector. Most importantly, it would “assist antitrust enforcers in identifying unfair transactions and anticompetitive transactions and practices.” That monetary value might also mean that if someone’s data is abused, “consumers have an injury to seek damages against,” David Carroll, the professor who launched a court challenge to reclaim his data from Cambridge Analytica, tweeted Monday.

Opening an avenue for legal redress against technology companies could change how they distribute or share data, but for most people, what would seeing the value of their personal data really mean? Having that perspective could open a new line of sight into the world beyond our screens, but it would do little to solve the bigger problem: ending the invasive business practices of the major tech platforms. In fact, it might end up making things worse.

Let’s start with what our data is worth in dollars to a tech platform. Warner and Hawley’s bill tasks the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) with developing a way to accurately quantify it, but until the SEC does that, all we can really do is guess. Arriving at a firm number isn’t…