Consumer guardian Which? has attempted to put a price on people's personal information as it ramps up pressure for tougher rules around data-ravenous tech giants such as Google and Facebook.
The British consumer champion has repeatedly argued that people are uncomfortable about the amount of data collected and stored by tech companies from online activity and gadgets in the home.
Now it has changed tack and commissioned a 111-page report – Value of the Choice Requirement Remedy – that attempts to estimate the amount of money people in the UK would be prepared to pay Facebook and Google in return for greater control over how their data is collected and used.
It interviewed just over 4,000 users of those platforms, finding they would cough up, on average, £1.09 a month if that would guarantee that they only receive generic adverts and that their data is not collected.
"Aggregating this for all UK users of Google and Facebook for a full year gives a total estimated value for this choice of £1.14bn," said Which?
The research found that while many people do have concerns, some are prepared to part with their data if they were paid for it in some way.
To prove the point, only a quarter (27 per cent) of the users quizzed earlier this year said they would be happy to receive targeted adverts. When they were offered something in return – such as an Amazon voucher – that figure went up to four-fifths (81 per cent).
Unsurprisingly, the survey found that the larger the financial reward, the more likely consumers were to choose targeted adverts with the mean valuation per Facebook/ Google user being £4.03 a month.
The publication of the research comes just a day before the deadline (1 October) of a consultation by the UK's competition watchdog as it looks to unleash its new Digital Markets Unit (DMU).
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The consultation was unveiled in July and trailed as a precursor for a new "regulatory regime for the most powerful digital firms, promoting greater competition and innovation in these markets and protecting consumers and businesses from unfair practices."
Proposals included giving the DMU the power to "suspend, block and reverse decisions by tech giants, and issue fines of up to 10 per cent of turnover for serious breaches."
Speaking in July, Rocio Concha, Which? director of Policy and Advocacy said: "Reforming the competition regime will help to build a fairer and more competitive tech sector that will work better for consumers, giving them more control and more choice - including over how their data will be collected and used.
"It will be crucial that the government provides the new Digital Markets Unit with the necessary tools, including robust oversight and tough enforcement powers to punish companies that act anti-competitively."
Fast-forward to today and Concha – whose organisation has had an active role in the consultation – has repeatedly made calls for tougher regulation to protect consumers.
"Which? has repeatedly raised the issue of consumers not feeling in control over how their data is collected and used by online platforms. The new Digital Markets Unit must be empowered by the government to introduce remedies that promote competition and reduce consumer harm," said Concha.
While Which? is making a last-gasp pitch to protect consumers, tech giants will also be waiting to see the outcome of the consultation.
In a statement, a spokesperson for Facebook said that the social media giant has "always been transparent about how we never use sensitive personal data for ad targeting."
Google said it was "advancing the field of privacy-preserving technology… [to give people] confidence that their privacy and choices are respected." ®