Personal data: The new oil of the 21st century

People are more and more connected, which results in creating new habits. Now our personal life reveals who we are and how we live. We purposely leave pieces of our life while surfing on the web; these pieces are our personal data.

What is personal data?

Personal data means “a single piece of information or a set of information, that can personally identify an individual or single them out as an individual. The obvious examples are somebody’s name, address, national identification number, date of birth or a photograph.”*

More specifically, the legal definition says: “personal data” shall mean any information relating to an identified or identifiable natural person (‘Data Subject’); an identifiable person is one who can be identified, directly or indirectly, in particular by reference to an identification number or to one or more factors specific to his physical, physiological, mental, economic, cultural or social identity. **

This data is a part of our personality, but you can’t touch it, even though you are its owner.

It is very difficult to have the control over it as we leave it all over the web without even noticing it. On every website, we give out data or it is gathered often without our consent or even knowledge.

Who collects our data?

fb & you geek and poke                                                                  Geek and Poke : the free model

If it is free, you are the product. These words indeed sound true today.

For years now, companies have been collecting data. Today the big revolution comes from the collecting tools available as well as the size of the gatherings. Internet is not the issue, it’s just a tool that makes the data gathering easier.

The GAFA: Google Apple Facebook and Amazon are the kings in using your data as if it was regular currency.

Our personal data is the raw material on which these giants of the Internet have built their business model and ensured their wealth.

Our data is gold for them and we give it for free.

Some people say that, today, the personal life of an European “would be worth” more than 600 euros. In 2020, our personal life will triple its value.

Our lives, our desires, our actions are a huge source of interest for the American giants of the Net.

Why companies use our data?

The challenge for a company is to offer the good product at the good moment and to sell it through the right channel.

To succeed in all of the above, you must have a strategy and it has to be a good one. The networks (social media, internet, etc.) give you the market trend, if you have and use the good data; and mostly if you analyze it well.

So, companies need to gather information from their customers, a lot of data, if they want to be competitive on the market. They need to understand us in order to closely review our actions, habits and define our personality to customize the messaging and the relationship. That implies gathering data from their customers to index them in a database.

For that, they can use our “cyber life”. Because in this cyber world we easily exhibit our private life. We give out our opinion, we react without half measurement. All is easier on the web and in this virtual life, with the difference that all remains recorded, all is traced and collected. And unfortunately, we do not show the same vigilance as in the physical and real world.

For companies, data gathering must meet a precise objective, in link with the company’s strategy in order to have a monetary value and to bring revenue.

It’s advisable, first of all, to have some basic information like the name, the first name, the postal address, the e-mail, and the phone number… And, then, the gathering becomes more refined in order to personalize the relationship to sociodemographic data (household structure and size, age, purchasing power…), even behavioral (frequency of purchase, centers of interest, cloth sizes, time and days of login and email opening…). “

The most delicate part is not so much to gather information but rather to identify which is the most valuable. This, combined with other data, will enable companies to send their customers a targeted and customized message in order to trigger a purchase.

Any type of data is in fact a raw material, which should be extracted, analyzed, transformed, and developed. As oil needs to be refined, our data needs to be deciphered. Most companies started collecting data without knowing how it could be useful to them.

Now with the big data trend, the landscape has dramatically changed.


Célie Zamora,

étudiante en Master 2 Droit de l’économie numérique à l’Université de Strasbourg.


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