Should you sell your personal data? Metadata worth billions of dollars is bought and sold every year, so why not get your slice of the pie? In this article, we’ll cover the pros and cons of generating passive income with data collection apps.
Sophie – Our Expert Network Specialist: Sophie is from Hamburg, Germany and is our specialist on Expert Networks. After several years of working as a top executive, Sophie is now an independent consultant and is signed up as a council member of several networks. When she is not helping HuginX write Expert Network reviews, she can often be found enjoying thrilling Nordic noir crime series.
How can I sell my data for money?
By installing a mobile data collection app that tracks and stores your metadata, you can earn passive income. These apps collect data on users’ internet usage, such as the websites they visit and the apps they use. The data is then sold to third-party companies for market research purposes.
Pros and cons selling your data through a mobile app
After reviewing all the main data collection apps, here are the positives and negatives that stood out:
- Cash Payments
- Free Gift Cards
- Regular Income
- Easy Money
- Lack of Transparency
- Battery Draining
- Low Compensation
- Sharing of Private Data
- Data Sold to 3rd Parties
Key things to check before selling your data through a mobile app:
- Transparency: Is the purpose of sharing data clear?
- Permissions: Are users being asked to actively consent to share data?
- Amount of data: Are users being asked to share more data than is strictly necessary?
- Easy to opt-out: Is it easy for users to opt out and request their data to be deleted?
- Fair compensation: Are users getting fairly compensated for sharing their data?
- Performance: Is the app draining the battery or slowing down the device?
Is selling your personal data a good idea?
We took a detailed look at 10 data collection apps on Google Play Store, checking what type of data they track.
Actively submitted data
First of all, it’s all the data you provide when registering. This usually includes personally identifiable information (PII) such as your name, email address and phone number in addition to age, gender, address, zip code, income, education, and responses to survey questions related to various topics. This is so-called active data because you need to take action by submitting the information through a form or a survey.
Passively tracked metadata
On the other hand, you have the passive data automatically tracked by the app. Besides asking for your permission to track the most sensitive data such as your location and browsing history, the data is collected by the app in the background.
Passively tracked data often include your approximate and exact location, personal information such as purchase history, app activity, web browsing, searches and the unique device ID linked to your phone.
We’ve made a comparison of what type of data is tracked and shared with 3rd party companies by data collection apps:
The most data-hungry apps
The data collection app ValueMe owned by Qrious Insights is the app in our comparison which shares the most data with other companies and organisations, followed by ZAP Surveys from Dynata and Swagbucks from Prodege.
Apps with zero data sharing
On the other end of the scale, you’ll find CitizenMe which only collects so-called zero data. As opposed to third-party data, zero data gives the user full control over all their data, including the right to have all their data deleted.
In other words; the amount of shared personal data varies a lot from app to app.
Data shared for market research vs. marketing purposes
Although some people may consider sharing data like their location and browsing history as intrusive, it’s important to remember that we’re talking about data used for market research and not direct marketing.
The whole purpose of tracking this data is to gain valuable insights into customer behaviour and preferences, often segmented into specific customer cohorts. Researchers are not looking into consumer profiles one by one, but analyse large amounts of data in aggregate form.
Market research code of conduct
If the company behind the app follows market research industry codes of conduct, there should be a Chinese wall between data obtained for market research and data used for marketing purposes. As an example, if your browsing history shows that you are visiting webpages linked to specific ailments, the same data should not be used to target users with personalized ads for medical products on an individual level.
From this perspective, it can actually be safer to download a legit market research app compared to a random app which is harvesting your data for marketing purposes in disguise. At least data collection apps make an attempt to keep you informed, they usually pay you for your data and the data is used for market research rather than marketing purposes.
Why are survey apps paying for your metadata?
Survey apps pay for your metadata because they can package it up and sell it to brands at a high price. Online metadata is important for brands since it enables them to gain better insights into their customers’ behaviours, preferences, and needs. The better businesses understand their customer target groups, the more they can streamline their offerings.
While e-commerce companies have access to vast amounts of first-party data measuring what their customers do on their websites and apps, they don’t necessarily know what their users are doing outside of their platforms. By buying access to 3rd party data, they can get a much fuller picture of their customers’ journeys.
Data collection apps can also provide longitudinal data with insights into consumers’ full demographic profile, app usage, and browsing history combined with their updated geolocation. This allows brands to see where their users are going, which other brands they engage with, what draws their attention and how they spend their time online.
Because this data is so valuable for them, brands are willing to pay market intelligence companies a lot of money for behavioural data. Actually, the global behaviour analytics market is in rapid growth, expected to reach $19.2 billion by 2031 according to Allied Market Research.
There is also a big market for behavioural data used for digital advertising. In an effort to shed light on this little-monitored industry, The Markup identified 47 companies that harvest, sell or trade-in mobile phone location data. These are companies that base their business on user data being tracked and shared from apps and browsers across different devices.
What about all the other apps tracking my personal data?
You probably already have several apps installed which are continuously harvesting and monetizing your data without you even knowing about it.
The truth is that it’s hard to know all the ways in which your movements are being tracked and traded. Is the app asking for your location as part of its core functionality, or is the purpose to sell your data on 3rd party data marketplaces?
Let’s take the popular game Candy Crush Saga as an example. According to the App Store, this app tracks data points such as your location and purchases, which can be shared with 3rd party companies. In other words, chances are high that your personal information is sold or rented out to other companies.
If you compare this with a market research app such as InboxDollars, the data privacy situation looks very similar:
So if you’re already giving away your data for free, why not find an app that actually pays for your data?
Summarizing why companies pay for behavioural data tracked through data collection apps:
- A better understanding of their customers: Market research helps brands gain insight into their customers’ preferences, behaviours, and attitudes. By analyzing behavioural data, brands can identify patterns and trends that inform their marketing strategies.
- Improving products and services: By collecting data on customer behaviour, brands can identify areas for improvement in their products and services. For example, they can identify features that customers find most appealing and use that information to develop new products or refine existing ones.
- Identifying new markets: Behavioral data can help brands identify new markets and customer segments. For example, a company might use data to identify customer segments that are currently underserved and tailor their marketing strategies to appeal to those groups.
- Evaluating marketing campaigns: Market research companies can help brands evaluate the effectiveness of their marketing campaigns. By analyzing data on customer behaviour, they can determine which campaigns are most successful and identify areas for improvement.
Featured Passive Data Sharing Apps
- Surveys match well
- Short surveys
- A broad selection of topics
- Sporadic survey invitations
- Well functioning app
- Intuitive user interface
- Not quite living up to its ambitious marketing messages
- Passive income once the apps are installed
- Good compensation compared to taking surveys
- You'll be sharing a massive amount of data about your online behaviour
- Some technical glitches in terms of VPN and Apps slowing down your devices
- The reward level of £10 per month has been the same for more than 5 years.
- No cash option
- Frequent survey opportunities
- More rewards than "just" surveys are available
- A legit company with a long history in the survey industry
- Low payout threshold
- Several payout options
- Both mobile app and browser support
- Lots of screenout questions
- Low incentives
- Below-average survey experience
- Low payout threshold
- Cash payments
- Varied earning opportunities
- Mobile app
- Fast payment process
- Lots of personal data tracked and shared
- No website version (app only)
- Quick to block accounts
- Technical glitches
- Passive income
- Well functioning app
- Additional earning options
- Low payment threshold
- Several reward options
- Potential privacy concerns
- Draining of phone resources
- Limited earning possibilities
- Your data sold to 3rd parties
- Android only
- US only
Ways to restrict data sharing
There are a number of steps you can take to prevent apps and websites from tracking your data across different devices. As an example, following Apple’s transparency changes in 2021, it has become a lot easier to restrict apps from tracking you across the internet. Android is also planning for restrictions on app developers’ ability to track and share your data.
Apple is stricter than Android
Many of the data-hungry tracking apps offering passive income for your data are restricted to Android phones. This is the case for apps such as ValueMe and MobileXpression. The reasons for this are the restrictions on data sharing implemented by Apple.
Apple’s App Tracking Transparency (ATT) update is a feature that was introduced by Apple in iOS 14.5, which was released in April 2021. The update requires apps to ask for user permission before tracking their activity across other apps and websites owned by other companies for advertising purposes.
Previously, apps were able to track user activity without explicit consent and use this data to build a profile of the user’s behaviour and interests, which could then be used to deliver targeted ads. The ATT update gives users more control over their data privacy and allows them to choose whether or not they want to be tracked.
Under the ATT framework, when an app wants to track a user, it must first ask for permission through a pop-up notification. The notification will explain what data the app wants to track and how it will be used. Users can then choose to allow or deny the request.