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Would you pay $5,000 to use Google?

'Free services' such as Gmail and search usually require users to share a certain amount of personal information -- and that may be worth more than you think.

By MSN Money Partner Jan 30, 2012 2:54PM
This post comes from Quentin Fottrell at partner siteSmartMoney.


New research finds people fork over $5,000 worth of personal information a year to Google in exchange for access to its "free services" such as Gmail and search. While many view this as a fair trade, privacy experts say the Internet giant's latest plan to pool user data from its various sites make it less so.


The new privacy policy -- which Google contends will allow it to better target ads -- goes into effect on March 1. In a press release, the company said it may combine the information users submit under their email accounts with information from other Google services or third parties. What people do and share on the social networking site Google+, Gmail and YouTube will be combined to create a more three-dimensional picture of consumers' likes and dislikes, according to reports. Google did not return calls seeking comment.


Experts say that information is more valuable than people may think. Michael Fertik, CEO and founder of, one of a slew of new paid -- and free -- services to help consumers keep their Web use anonymous, says personal information can be worth between $50 and $5,000 per person per year to advertisers and market researchers -- depending on how much they spend and how useful the information is to third parties. Fertik says this explains why online breaches are so lucrative and on the rise.


Others say the data may be worth billions of dollars to social networking sites and online marketing agencies. "Their entire market cap is related to how much data is being collected and used," says Jules Polonetsky, the director of the Future of Privacy Forum, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.


There are ways consumers can block online tracking, however. "Use private browsing, that's Lesson 101," Fertik says. For instance, the FireFox Web browser comes with a "Do Not Track" option via "Options," "Privacy" and "Tracking." Reputation cleanup sites can also remove customers' details from the world's biggest direct marketing associations and data brokers. Post continues below.

The European Union announced new proposals Wednesday to keep online data private. In the United States, there is a growing chorus of lawmakers who want to do the same. Currently, there are no state or federal limits (.pdf file) on what information can be collected or with whom it can be shared, according to John M. Simpson, the director of Consumer Watchdog's Privacy Project, a nonprofit in California. Online data gathered can also be used in marketing housing, insurance and financial services, Simpson says.


For its part, Google policy explicitly states it will never sell users' personal information or share it without their permission. Fertik says, "The word 'sell' is very loaded. They share or trade data."


But while people say they are concerned about their online privacy, some studies show that they do little to protect it -- especially when it comes to what they share on social-networking sites.


Simpson says people need to be better educated about how to protect their data: A 2010 poll conducted by research firm Grove Insight for Consumer Watchdog said 86% of Americans favored the creation of an easy-to-use "anonymous button" that allows individuals to stop anyone from tracking them online. Others say consumers find the convenience of using one company's myriad of integrated online services compelling.


"There is a struggle between the titans of the Internet to provide a seamless experience that captures all your attention -- and all your data," Polonetsky says.


More on SmartMoney and MSN Money:

Jan 30, 2012 8:10PM
What are the tax implications then?  If Citibank gives you 25,000 miles and you have to pay tax on it and they can write it off against earnings.  How can I treat the $5000 I am giving Google?  Should I be sending them at 1099 and writing off the $5000?
Jan 31, 2012 7:41AM
Google promised in no uncertain terms to protect my info.  Now they are changing their policy,  and it seems to be running counter to that original and simple promise.
Come on,  Google,  "don't be evil".

Jan 30, 2012 8:12PM
If you dont think its worth 5,000 can you explain how the IPO for Facebook is expected to be worth 100 billion dollars?  You know, a company that sells nothing except ads, etc.  Information is worth a lot to the right people any more. 
Jan 31, 2012 12:04PM
So why is anyone telling them the truth? If you never give them the right birthday, it does not matter if it is stolen or sold. Same goes for all personal info. As far as the on line world is concerned, I am a 96 year old woman born in Panama.
Jan 31, 2012 10:36AM
I dont use Google now for free.. So this is an easy No
Jan 30, 2012 8:12PM
Does it really matter to people if some computer stores there interests, so it can post ads you are more likely to click on?  Are you that embarrassed about what you like?  If you are you have issues.  People want everything for free without ads.  It isn't going to happen.  Google should give option though.  Either pay a annual fee or give up some info. 

BTW, it is 10% of the info you freely give away posting everything about you on facebook for the world to see.
Jan 30, 2012 8:24PM

It's the Internet, people will never be educated enough to use it.   got to many idiots in the world.  There should be an Internet test, where if you don't pass it, you don't get to use it.



Jan 31, 2012 3:10PM
Sad No one in my family ever u7sed google. Google just forced itself on the computer and claim usage. What a crook.
Jan 31, 2012 2:21PM
Yeah they can have my $5000 worth of info, all collected through my various incognito browsing habits.
Jan 30, 2012 7:47PM

i don't think its worth 5.000 because  companys  would have to sell 50.000 in goods and services from these targeted ads to make a profit

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