1. Exactly what kind of oil is personal information?

Exactly what kind of oil is personal information?

Ericsson PIE Report - Figure 5

Just because we are not paying for a lot of things on the internet, does it really mean they’re for free? The new Personal Information Economy report from ConsumerLab explores how and to what extent information can complement money as the “oil” of the 21st century. But what kind of oil are we talking about here?

Just two weeks ago, I met with Martin who is one of my favorite pop stars at a cafe in London. He told me that his marvellous new album has sold less than a hundred copies. Mind you, Martin is not a newbie. He has released at least five CDs before in various constellations and guested on many other artists’ albums, including those from luminaries such as Bjork. He has even co-hosted a London radio show where he played his music every week. The lack of sales is because, as he says: “People expect to get everything for free on internet.”

Using information oil, supposedly.

Maybe personal information is a lubricant that drives my friend Martin’s CD business on a slippery slope? Looking at the above graph from the report, personal info certainly seems to be a new kind of motor oil for the consumption economy.

A full 44% of respondents would let companies use their information to personalize offers, and an astonishing 41% would let companies use personal info to improve or develop new products. Astonishing! Taking the other angle, only 29% say that they would not let companies use personal information to sell more.

To companies, this sounds like oil of the black-gold type! Hence the talk about monetizing big data.
From a consumer perspective, however, personal information is seen as a way to get new and more customized services at a better price, or sometimes for free. Consumer awareness about how their information is being used is still low, and they do not see “big data” as an issue. So for the time being, consumers favor higher-value offerings over reduced integrity risks.

Let us just hope that all of this does not turn into snake oil in consumers’ hands.
Because another thing that I associate oil with – at least of the black-gold variety – is conflict. Will there be a consumer backlash? So far we are not seeing it.

Written by Michael Björn

Michael Björn is Head of Research at Ericsson ConsumerLab and has a PhD in data modeling from the University of Tsukuba in Japan. One of Michael's keen research interests is the process of assimilation of ICT into everyday consumer life.

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