It's no secret that data mining is big business—but what if Internet users could monetize their personal data on their own? New York University grad student Federico Zannier raised the question by unleashing an arsenal of digital espionage tools on his own computer: a Chrome extension that documents every web address visited; software that records GPS location; and a custom application that takes a screenshot, a webcam photo, and records the mouse position every time a new tab opens.
"I’ve data mined myself," he recently announced on a Kickstarter campaign page. "I’ve violated my own privacy. Now I am selling it all."
Zannier got the idea to track his every online action while researching the cookies installed on his browser. "I found out that they’re the way the Internet works, with cookies and with targeted ads, etc., etc.," he tells Fast Company. "The idea of the project was to try to shed light on a subject that was happening every day and I didn’t even pay attention."
And so he began his extreme expression of the quantified self movement. At first, he felt strange at his computer, knowing that every website he visited would be recorded. But soon, he says, he began to forget that it was happening—much like most of us forget about the cookies tracking our own online movements.
The project, his thesis at NYU’s Interactive Telecommunication Program, was at first simply intended to be a way to bring online tracking into his daily conciousness. He planned to publish the data he harvested, along with these awesome data visualizations, because, he says, "I love data visualizations." The idea to sell the data via Kickstarter came later.
A week into the Kickstarter campaign, which had a $100 goal, "A Bite of Me" has already raised about $1,000. Each backer will receive a day’s worth of Zannier's data for every $2 they contribute—but he doesn’t anticipate will actually use the information. Data, Zannier believes, is "more interesting with a group of people." Eventually, he'll release the tools he used to track himself, which could encourage the creation of such a group (he's not the first person who has had this idea).
The project itself changed when it became a Kickstarter campaign. In addition to inviting viewers to think more deeply about how the Internet works and online tracking, it also poses a question: If data is valuable to companies, why shouldn’t the people who create that data be able to sell it?
Though the Kickstarter campaign presents the project as a campaign for this option, Zannier says it's really more about bringing the issue to light.
"[I think other people should try tracking themselves] just to be aware of how the Internet works and think about it," he says.