Companies Are Profiting from Your Data. Shouldn't You, Too?
Business + Economy

Companies Are Profiting from Your Data. Shouldn't You, Too?

A new project suggests that, if corporations are people, maybe people should now be corporations, too.

Jennifer Lyn Morone Inc.

Jennifer Lyn Morone means business, in the most literal way. The American born, London based artist has moved on to what she calls "the inevitable next stage of Capitalism" by incorporating herself. No longer just Jennifer Lyn Morone, she is now Jennifer Lyn Morone™ Inc.

The unusual move grew out of her studies at London's Royal College of Art, where she was asked to "design a protest." Her beef is with Big Data. "I don't know about you, but I've had enough of being exploited," she says in a video on her website. “If companies can make money from my information — information that I generate just by being alive — then so can I.”

Morone's "new business model" makes her the founder, CEO, and shareholder of JLM Inc. Morone says she will be capturing and collecting as much data about herself as she can, from bank transactions and online searches and social media activity to other “physical, mental and biological services.”

In the brave new world of Big Data, as companies like Facebook and Google profit from collecting and selling information about their users, the data Morone generates living her life is going to be her primary product.

Related: Facebook and the Extremely Creepy Possibilities for Virtual Reality

Operating as a traditional corporation means viewing the world in terms of the goods and services you can provide and pricing them accordingly, which typically means profitably. For Morone, it means controlling her data, and pricing it both profitably and fairly (though like any corporation looking to diversify its revenue stream, she will also offer other services, too, like bone marrow donations, The Economist reported). "This [project] is not about everybody getting rich," she says. "It's about everybody getting their fair share."

Morone’s project is in some ways the natural next step in our information age. With every web search, social media post, and purchase we give more and more of ourselves away in the form of data that other people are using to make scads of money. In return, we get free services—email, the use of said social media, and occasionally something more tangible, like free shipping for the products we buy. Whether this can go on forever—whether this can be a viable, long lasting economic relationship—is unclear, unless of course you're Jaron Lanier, for whom it's all very clear.

"Instead of enlarging our overall economy by creating more value that is on the books, the rise of digital networking is enriching a relative few while moving the value created by the many off the books,” Lanier wrote in Who Owns the Future?, published last year. Lanier argued that “monetizing more of what’s valuable from ordinary people, who turn out to be the uncompensated sources of the data that make networks valuable in the first place, will lead to a better future.”

Related: How Facebook and Google Want to Mess with Your Reality

Morone is taking a bold first step toward that future. To accomplish this, she has assembled a small team of techies to wire her for data, which will eventually be stored on her own servers in the “Database of ME,” or DOME, and sold at her discretion for the price she sets. DOME isn't finished yet. Morone hopes to have the whole operation up and running by the end of this year.

In the beginning, all of the data she collects on herself will be published on the website. Morone herself admits to the potential difficulties involved in this artistic, entrepreneurial undertaking: "I also want to test what's the worst that can happen. If someone steals my identity, I don't stop existing ... [but] is there still danger? Well, you'll have to watch to find out."

Of course, unless self-incorporation and DOMEs really catch fire, it's unlikely companies like Google, Facebook, or have much to fear in the way of losing control of the data they count on to run their businesses, though the idea of turning the tables on the data-hoovering behemoths we increasingly empower is an enticing one.

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