This Is How Invisibly Lets You Control Your Personal Data

And get paid, too

Key Takeaways

  • Your data is a hot commodity to companies, and some think you should make money from it.
  • Invisibly gives users the ability to disclose as much of their data as they want, to have more control over who uses it and how it’s used, all while getting paid.
  • Experts say the future of personal data should prioritize user control.
User data privacy as an abstract illustration

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Your personal data is being used by Big Tech companies every day, and experts think everyone should care more about their data and take more control over it. 

One possible way to do that is by getting paid for your data. Companies like Invisibly provide a way for you to cash in on the data others already are using to target you with ads. It’s better than the alternative of companies using your data and you getting nothing at all, but in the even bigger picture, having more control over your data, who uses it, and how it’s used against you is an important topic to consider. 

"Having control over your data, I think fundamentally equals having control over your reality," Dr. Don Vaughn, a former academic neuroscientist and the head of product at Invisibly, told Lifewire over the phone. 

Making Money Off Your Data

According to studies, 46% of consumers feel like they’ve lost control of their data, and 84% say they want more control. Invisibly’s mission is to empower people with their data, and Vaughn said the first step in doing so is to get people paid for it. 

"There are hundreds of billions of dollars that are made from the biggest tech names by licensing and selling your data to advertisers, and I want people in on that transaction if they want to be a part of it," he said. 

US dollar bill with glitch effect

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Invisibly works like this: after signing up, you can link as many data sources as you feel comfortable with. This could be social media data, URL data, transaction records from banks, and more. From there, Invisibly tells relevant advertisers what you’re interested in, and advertisers pay money for that information to target you with ads (you know, the ones you already see every day, anyway). 

"Think of Invisibly as your personal data agent," Vaughn said. 

Invisibly is just starting, so right now, users can only make a few bucks a month on their data. But Vaughn said the more users there are, the more advertisers will join and pay, which means the more money users will get, overall.

"With Invisibly, you can make $60 a year depending on how much data you link, and my hope is that we'll make $1,000 for a person in about two years," Vaughn said. 

Why Should You Care?

But why should you care about your data and how it's used? Vaughn said there are many more implications to companies controlling your data than you realize, and that you’re essentially an online platforms' product, not their client. 

"You should care about your data because it’s used against you. It’s used by companies who want to get you to buy stuff—like an impulse buy that you regret—or to target you with content that slowly makes people polarized and have extreme viewpoints that are maybe unhealthy," he said. 

Vaughn added your data can also allow companies like Facebook and YouTube to know exactly what you like and cater to it to keep you on the platform, making scrolling your social feeds an unhealthy habit.  

"[Tech companies] have an incentive that's different from yours: you want to live your best life, Facebook and Google want to get you to click…that’s how they make their money," he said. 

However, not everyone thinks the payout of our data will solve the real problems of Big Tech companies having utter control over our information. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) notes that data dividends won’t fix what’s fundamentally wrong with privacy today. 

"Those small checks in exchange for intimate details about you are not a fairer trade than we have now. The companies would still have nearly unlimited power to do what they want with your data," wrote Hayley Tsukayama, a legislative activist at the EFF, in a blog post

"Having control over your data, I think fundamentally equals having control over your reality."

The EFF advocates for more laws that make data privacy the default, rather than the data dividend approach. However, both sides can agree that making people aware of their data can hopefully lead to a future where you’re in more control of your information.

"I hope for a future where you are in control of what you see, and you can directly influence it," Vaughn said.

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