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Track22: Personal Data Markets

Track Chairs

Alessandro Acquisti, Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), USA,
Rainer Böhme, University of Münster, Germany,


“Personal data is the new oil of the Internet and the new currency of the digital world.” With these words, Meglena Kuneva, Europe’s Consumer Commissioner, described an economic development increasingly manifest on a global scale. Personal data is a new asset class. Every day, individuals around the world send about 47 billion (non-spam) e-mails, submit 95 million tweets on Twitter, and share 30 billion pieces of content on Facebook (World Economic Forum 2011). Much of this user-created information does not go unused by third parties: firms collect and use personal information to enhance consumer experience as well as for their own profit. Search engines such as Google and Bing, or social networks such as Facebook, grow equity mainly by using individuals’ information to personalize advertisements. Data aggregators such as Acxiom, Rapleaf, Acurint, Choicepoint, or Spokeo sell access to personal and household information. Not only is personal data used for advertising – it can also help companies to understand market opportunities, insurance risks, credit worthiness, employability, and so forth. And technological innovation seems to create ever-new opportunities to tap the data resource, accompanied by novel business models trying to exploit and monetize its wealth.

Economists have for long debated the economic implications of abundant consumer information and the trade-offs between privacy and disclosure. Designing markets where personal data is openly traded between data subjects and data holders, and assigning individuals ownership rights over their data, emerged in the last two decades as apparent solutions to the privacy debate alternative to both pure regulation and pure self-regulation. Over these years, the debate over the technical, legal, economics, and behavioral feasibility, efficiency, and ethicality of such markets for personal data (or related concepts such as personal information warehouses, personal data vaults, and propertization of personal data), has continued – with dedicated firms providing related services emerging in the past few years. Many aspects of this debate remain unsolved:  How do we properly price personal data? Can individuals whose data is traded and used become active participants in this market and demand fair price for their data? What technologies can help them to manage their personal data and enable them to actively participate in trading this asset class if they want to, while protecting their privacy if they need to? Would they actually want to at all?

Topics of interest

Potential topics for theoretical or empirical research papers include, but are not limited, to:

Markets for personal data
•       Valuation of personal data
•       Mechanisms for personal data markets
•       Market structure and organization (including competition, multi-sided markets, secondary markets)
•       Hidden action, hidden information, and (negative) inference in personal data markets
•       Evolution of personal data markets
•       Business models involving personal data markets
•       Contracts and derivatives on personal data markets
•       Barriers and market frictions
•       Decision and game theory for personal data markets
•       Market stability, safety, and security mechanism
•       Modeling principles, analytical tools, and measurement methodology
•       Sector-specific studies (e.g., credit or labor markets)

Drivers and impediments of personal data markets
•       Compatibility with data protection and privacy laws (in various jurisdictions)
•       Property rights management and other legal approaches to personal data markets
•       Privacy-enhancing technologies relating to personal data markets
•       Contract enforcement mechanisms
•       Protocols supporting personal data markets
•       Formal tools (e.g., data handling policy languages)
•       Privacy metrics for personal data markets
•       Trust in market makers and market participants
•       Behavioral studies of trade-offs in personal data disclosure
•       Policy analysis and market regulation
•       International harmonization of personal data markets
•       Macroscopic consequences: productivity, growth, equality, and freedom

Associate Editors

Ian Brown, Oxford Internet Institute, UK
Jonathan Cave, RAND Europe, Cambridge, UK
Vasant Dhar, NYU Stern School of Business, USA
Marit Hansen, Independent Center for Privacy Protection, Germany
Kai-Lung Hui (許佳龍), HKUST Business School, Hong Kong
Leslie John, Harvard Business School, USA
Nadezhda Purtova, University of Groningen, the Netherlands
Catherine Tucker, MIT Sloan School of Management, USA

Journal special issue

Authors of accepted papers are also encouraged to publish a journal version of their research in an upcoming Electronic Markets special issue on Personal Data Markets. The call for contributions will be coordinated with this track.