How confused are our notions of user data? Well, let's look at how much it might be worth. There are several different ways we could try to ascertain the fair value of your data.
For buyers, user data is dirt cheap. User profiles -- slices of our digital selves -- are sold in large chunks, i .e. at least 10,000 in a batch. On the high end, they go for $0.005 per profile, according to advertising-industry sources.
But maybe that's not the right way to value the data. After all, each profile of you being sold only takes advantage of some subset of your information. Facebook and Google make roughly $5 and $20 per user, respectively. Without your data in one form or another, their advertising would be mostly worthless, so perhaps your data is worth something in that range.
But let's not forget the rest of the Internet advertising ecosystem either, which the Internet Advertising Bureau says supported $300 billion in economic activity last year. That's more than $1,200 per Internet user and much of the online advertising industry's success is predicated on the use of this kind of targeting data.
If you're keeping score, this necessarily apples-to-oranges comparison yields a difference of 240,000 times between how much a user profile sells for and how much a user, herself, may be worth to the ecosystem. That's six orders of magnitude worth of confusion.