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What Data Can Be Purchased at Data Marketplaces and How to Do This?

You probably click on the “accept all cookies” button that appears when you visit a website before thinking twice, but are you aware that by doing this, your personal data is transferred to a third party and that this data is traded on large marketplaces? Moreover, this is not the only way to collect your personal data. We live in a digital world, and even with a simple act like playing slots online, you share a lot of information about yourself. So, how do these data marketplaces work, what kind of data do they sell and how can you use them? We answer all these questions below.

What is a Data Marketplace and How Does It Work?

You can think of a data marketplace as a type of online merchant where only personal information is sold. However, the personal information here does not contain info that could identify you as a person (i.e., reveal your identity). Instead, demographic information collected through various methods is anonymized and sold in bulk. Individuals or companies that collect this data put them up for sale on the data marketplace. Companies that want them (for example, advertising agencies) buy these data by paying a certain fee. In this respect, we can say that the data marketplaces themselves do not sell anything, but only mediate the sale.

For example, let’s take the data marketplace called “Snowflake”: when you visit it, you see data that are put up for sale in different categories such as public health, weather, location and demographics. Different “products” are available in each category. For example, if you visit the “geospatial” category, you can purchase US geospatial data collected by Walmart and offered for sale by Lifesight. Are you curious about the number of liquor business licenses obtained in a given geographic region in the last 10 years? You can find and buy this information in the “Marketing” category. It is even possible to purchase (anonymized) credit card information used by these businesses: another firm sells these data too. In short, it is not possible to simply list the data offered for sale in data marketplaces in a single category: anything that leaves a digital signature can be collected and offered for sale. If you cannot find the data you are looking for, it is even possible to request it privately: as a buyer, you can even place your own requests.

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Pricing of Data Marketplaces

Whether you are a buyer or seller, you must first register on the data marketplaces for free. After that, the fee you have to pay depends on what you want to do. For example, you can choose to make a single purchase or by purchasing a subscription, you can access three different data per month. If you’re a seller, you’re paid the revenue minus the marketplace commission. The exact numbers are different in each marketplace and naturally, vary according to the type of data to be purchased. If you’re after specific data on which shampoo single men aged 30-35 prefer most, you may have to pay a hefty sum. For more comprehensive political data, such as the voting habits of the population over 40 living in the northern states of the United States, you may have to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars. This is a marketplace: there are no fixed fees. 

How Can They Do This?

Some of the data available for sale may surprise you. For example, even the information of the credit card you use only on POS machines can be a part of a bulk sale. Of course, this list will not include your name and credit card number, but it will include which payment provider you use (Visa, MasterCard, Amex, etc.) and how much you have purchased. In the right hands, this information can be extremely valuable.

Companies can easily and legally sell the data they collect because we are the ones who allow this. When was the last time you read the terms and conditions while installing a program? Or did you prefer to just press the “next” button without reading anything? Did you read the contract you signed when getting a credit card from your bank? If you did, you would have seen that you also allowed the sale of information about how you use your credit card to the “bank’s business partners”. Our data is being sold because we allow it. We don’t have the option to “not allow” anyway: if we don’t accept those agreements, we can’t install the program or get the credit card. Therefore, privacy laws are more important than many realize. They do not prevent data collection, but at least ensure that collected data cannot be linked to a specific person (i.e. only sold after being anonymized).

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