value of personal data

What Your Personal Data Says About You — And What It Could Be Worth

Personal data and who’s collecting it is in question right now. And given ongoing revelations of data misuse and security breaches from several top companies over the last year, if you’re wondering what exactly it is, or how it’s being collected, used and safeguarded, you’re not alone.

What is Personal Data?

Personal data is any information that can be used to identify you. This information could be a single data point, such as your name or social security number, or it could be the sum of many data points you leave behind as you use apps, surf the net, move around and communicate online.

value of personal data

Here’s a basic list of the types of information that can be considered personal data:

  • Demographic (age, date of birth, gender, ethnicity)
  • Location (where you live, work and play — and how you move between locations)
  • Behavior (how a you interact with applications, browse the web and make purchases)
  • Preferences (what kinds of sports, shopping, music and entertainment you like)
  • DNA (traits, preferences and disease markers can be revealed through DNA)

Trading Personal Data for Services

Generally, we know we have to give up some information to companies in exchange for a service—like apps that help us navigate or find the perfect restaurant. In the digital world especially, personal data can be valuable for companies wanting to target these types of need-based services. After all, data powers the convenience we have come to love and the more people using a service, the (potentially) better it can get by leveraging data.

value of personal data advertising industry

Advertisers are another group who love personal data. They want to make sure they’re putting products in front of people who are interested in them. App users should be aware that oftentimes, our data is being provided to more than just the digital service we’re looking to leverage. Information is often sold to advertisers for targeting purposes, and digital ad revenue in the US is growing at a fast rate.

How Much is Our Personal Data Worth?

It seems, then, that the stock of our personal data is pretty strong. And though a few of the companies we’ve trusted with our personal data have violated that trust, for the most part we recognize that our data is what makes these services so great. If that’s the case, perhaps if we all understood just how much our data was worth, we’d have a little more leverage when it came to how it was used.

Here’s a closer look at the information different platforms track online — and what that data translates into, on average, in terms of dollars and cents — to help you get smart about your data sharing.

personal data infographic

This content is produced by WIRED Brand Lab in collaboration with Western Digital Corporation.



  1. Online advertising revenue in the United States from 2000 to 2017 (in billion U.S. dollars)
  2. IAB Internet Advertising Revenue Report Half Year 2018 and Q2 2018


Infographic Sources:

  1. Immaterial Labour and Data Harvesting
  2. How Large Is a Petabyte?
  3. Datacenters on Punch Cards
  4. How Big Is A Petabyte, Exabyte, Zettabyte, Or A Yottabyte?
  5. Increase in Social Users
  6. Net US Digital Ad Revenues, By Company, 2016-2019
  7. Increase in Web Users
  8. Figure calculated by dividing the total revenue of US digital advertising in 2015 by number of people (US) on the Internet in 2015.
  9. Figured calculated by dividing total revenue of US digital advertising in 2018 by the  number of people (US) on the Internet in 2018.


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