/ Shopping, Technology

Is it mad to trade your data for an online discount?

Boy pressing thumb on 'OK' button

I recently heard data described as the oil of the internet, the lifeblood that keeps the World Wide Web spinning and a currency for savvy consumers to trade. But is trading your data for online discounts fair, or even safe?

According to a recent talk by media futurist Gerd Leonhard, it would seem that many under 28 year olds would think so – or are at least prepared to take the risk.

The internet is in its third decade and still rapidly evolving in ways that were unpredictable just years ago. Plus, the way we use the web has evolved drastically too.

Emails were exciting at first, but are now often seen as a nuisance. More and more of us are shopping online, whether on our computer or mobile. And secrets are no longer safe online, where Wikileaks and super-injunction busting Tweets expose all.

Your personal data as online currency

E-privacy has been a major concern for a long time, but in the wake of the recent hack of Sony’s PlayStation Network, it’s more relevant than ever. Sony’s PlayStation incident shows just how valuable your data is, and nicely illustrates how data piracy has become a serious organised-crime.

But Sony’s hack was all about bank details and passwords, which everyone can recognise as having value. But what about age, preferences, email addresses and income – where’s the value in that? To a marketing agency it all means money, with this personal data being sought and traded by legitimate bodies, at a high price.

Letting cookies track your online habits mean companies can target you with more relevant advertising, and providing your email gives them a direct route to your inbox. It’s great for marketers, as they needn’t waste cash finding their audience or otherwise serving blanket ads to all and sundry – but what are the benefits for us?

Is your online data your biggest commodity?

This is what web users are beginning to explore more willingly. And according to Gerd Leonhard, it’s the under 28s that have the greater propensity to do so. Entering an email address when making an online purchase is enough to make some shoppers head down to the high street, even when the cost is higher.

Other customers, however, are willing to subscribe to an occasional email for a cheaper price – and even go a few steps further. Indeed, online shoppers are quickly learning that the more data they give away, the greater discount they can get.

And the offers can swell with people power. To a marketing company, the data of a single person has great leverage, but the data of a group of people is seriously mouth-watering. Group buying gives clusters of consumers a lot more power – forget the discounts, these guys want to use their data for freebies and exclusives.

But where do you draw the line? I still exercise prudence and keep my personal data cards relatively close to my chest, but my caginess is beginning to soften. I’m still watchful of what I share online and who it’s shared with – but am I being too cautious?

Perhaps I should just embrace the potential of data sharing and take advantage of it for a healthy discount, before everybody else does.


What is most frightening is the way in which giving away information is becoming an accepted way of life.

It is not just online services we need to worry about. Get a Tesco Clubcard and every time you shop you are providing Tesco with information. As with the online traders’ discounts mentioned in the article, you are effectively paying extra if you don’t use a loyalty card.

If I read that a company ‘will not sell or rent any of your personal information’ I assume that means that they will get round this by swapping information!

I cannot see any way of controlling the problem but it we need to try.

I recently deleted my LinkedIn account because I was receiving spam at my work email address, even though it is not listed anywhere for others to use.

No Facebook, no LinkedIn, no Bebo, all googles “location based services” turned off and I periodically google my name to ensure that there is nothing about me on t’interweb.

I value my personal information as this can be used to try and get anything from you or do anything to you. Paranoid maybe, but if you don’t agree, just go and read some of the T&Cs of your fave websites

Dean – I share your paranoia. I did join Facebook to check a link I had put in to help a society run by students. I’ve never used Facebook but I get regular email notifications about people trying to contact me. Time to close the account I think. I hoped it would be cancelled if I did nothing, but that has not worked.

It could be a good day to get rid of the cookies too.

It is scary the power large online companies are getting through knowing our information. It is horrible to think that all your information is being used to make general assumptions about you. Big Brother is watching however it’s not the government, it’s companies like Google and Facebook and they record your every move.

I keep myself protected by using temporary email address. Many links are made across platforms, say between Twitter and Facebook are made by email addresses. Using temporary email address means this connection cannot be made.

To avoid possible “swindles” is it not advisable to request SSL and/or Security Clearace data and this sort of financial validity data as early as possible when considering dealing with a site.
If so would it noy be a GOOD idea for you to highlight this data so that others who do not know about this may avail of it and possibly avoid experiencing the heartache etc of being swindled.
I will appreciate a comprehensive reply especially if I am in error – hey I’m “elderly” and maybe my knowledge maybe is old fashioned

John says:
31 May 2011

If you don’t want your data shared, don’t use Confused. com and the like – you can’t opt out! The spam starts shortly afterwards. I am concerned that some commercial contacts pass on information without advising users – I can’t think how else I get spam.

Henry says:
1 June 2011

Original question – Is it mad to trade your data for an online discount?

ANSWER – Emphatically YES!

Now, perhaps with the exception of your *** life, it is your most precious commodity. Don’t give/trade it away. Just look around you; how many industries have either sprouted or grown since they have started demanding more and more personal data to do anything online. Not so long ago none of us were worried about how someone may use your name and address and a few other titbits to get a loan in you name – now they also default and leave you carrying the can. This has suddenly boosted the credit rating agencies’ business, who now come offering you, for a monthly fee of course, a facility to keep an eye on your credit rating. Less than ten years ago I didn’t even know they existed.

Another day another phobia – every time you swipe a card in a shop or enter some details online you run the risk of someone stealing your whole (id) life. And why – because all this plastic card/online everything has been thrust upon you. You can not say No Thanks either – you will be left isolated out in the cold!

And the banks and financial institutions are responsible for this to a very large extent. They thrust this upon us, not for our convenience, but theirs. It made administration easier, faster and cheaper. Tell me, have any of these objectives been delivered? Despite the electronic speeds at which their systems work, we have to queue in the branches, the cheques whether physical or electronic, still take 4 days to clear and the charges – well just open any paper on the financial pages and see.