Exploring the economic value of personal information from firms’ financial statements
Currently personal data gathering in online markets is done on a far larger scale and much cheaper and faster than ever before. Within this scenario, a number of highly relevant companies for whom personal data is the key factor of production have emerged. However, up to now, the corresponding economic analysis has been restricted primarily to a qualitative perspective linked to privacy issues. Precisely, this paper seeks to shed light on the quantitative perspective, approximating the value of personal information for those companies that base their business model on this new type of asset. In the absence of any systematic research or methodology on the subject, an ad hoc procedure is developed in this paper. It starts with the examination of the accounts of a number of key players in online markets. This inspection first aims to determine whether the value of personal information databases is somehow reflected in the firms’ books, and second to define performance measures able to capture this value. After discussing the strengths and weaknesses of possible approaches, the method that performs best under several criteria (revenue per data record) is selected. From here, an estimation of the net present value of personal data is derived, as well as a slight digression into regional differences in the economic value of personal information.