FOIMan on literally giving your information value.

coinsWe often hear people talk about information or data being valuable. But in the last 24 hours I’ve heard two separate speakers, ostensibly on two separate topics, discuss attributing actual monetary cost to information. So perhaps there’s something in it.

First, yesterday evening David Ryan, who was hired several years ago to establish the National Archives’ digital preservation department (and a declaration of interest, he also gave me my first information management job 20+ years ago – don’t hold it against him), was talking about the future of records management at the Information and Records Management Society’s London Group meeting. Amongst other things, David noted the move of many organisations to cloud storage, meaning that there is a noticeable increase in cost if more data is stored each month. He gave the example of Amazon’s cloud storage service, AWS, which now offers customers a retention scheduling tool to help them manage the cost by ensuring that stored data is automatically deleted or archived. He asked if anyone included a monetary cost for record series identified in their records retention schedules. Nobody did, but he speculated that that might become a feature of retention schedules and information asset registers in the future. An invoice might have an intrinsic value to a business in much the same way as a chair.

Which was fascinating but to some probably seemed a long way off. Then today I attended the Direct Marketing Association’s (DMA) Data Protection update, a conference aimed at informing marketers in particular about the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). It was an enjoyable event and I found it useful to hear about GDPR from a different perspective.

One session was delivered by Nicholas Oliver, a youthful entrepreneur who talked about “Unified decentralisation & the future of a consumer-led data economy”.

Yes, I know – I was fully prepared to spend that half-hour catching up on email. But it was very interesting.

Nicholas identified that most of us are rather unnerved by the growing trend towards creating unified profiles of us. The fact that Facebook appears to know what we just bought from Amazon and suchlike. He compared this practice to what Edward Snowden revealed about the US security services and concluded that there was little difference between that and what companies are doing to better target their marketing. Having collected all this data, the companies think they own it, and there have even been suggestions that individuals who try to prevent its use are somehow at fault (John Whittingdale, former Culture Secretary, being a notable proponent of this view in relation to ad-blocking).

Nicholas is a businessman and having identified the problem, was there of course to provide us with the answer – or at least his answer. His company,, provides an online platform for people to choose what marketing they receive. And interestingly, given what David Ryan had to say, they actually get paid for their personal data. So you sign up, indicate your preferences, and at some point you or a charity of your choice, receive a payment. Meanwhile, the advertising you receive is more targeted (so in theory less irritating), and more likely to result in you spending money on products so the companies who sell things to you get more value from their advertising budget. What’s more, Nicholas stressed the fact that consumers have control over their data at all times – once they decide not to receive marketing anymore, their data is deleted. We’re used to our data being a valuable commodity to the companies that collect it. We’re maybe not so used to the idea that it might have monetary value to us.

I haven’t looked at Nicholas’ service and I’m not endorsing it (there may well be other products out there that do something similar), but I did think the approach he described was interesting and seemed very much in line with the GDPR’s emphasis on individual control over data. Elizabeth Denham, the new Commissioner, said yesterday that it’s not about privacy OR innovation, it’s about privacy AND innovation, and this sounded a lot like the kind of thinking that she has in mind. Put together with David’s talk yesterday, it has made me think about how literally to take the phrase “valuable information”.

One Comment

  1. The idea that data retention would be governed by cost is worrying. Estimating the cost of record storage has always, in the days before digital, a clear cost. If a record needs to be kept then it should be kept but the idea of a third party involvement seems to be wrong and how long before it lasts, you can’t see it last 100 years. This is not an issue that is in the future but is happening now.

    David Matthew

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