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Startup Gives Users Control Over Sale of Personal Data

Most sites that you visit on the Web allow you to use their services without charging you money. There is a transaction happening, but you do not sign anything. You and the website have a sort of quasi-agreement: You, the user, do not pay to use the website's service, and in exchange, it shows you ads. Most likely, it sells your personal information such as e-mail address and browsing preferences to advertising and marketing companies. A new startup company, whose slogan is "data to the people," is trying to remove the middleman and enable people to sell themselves to advertisers directly and help others at the same time.

Enliken, the company behind the new concept, said the process will work like this: Users download a program from the company that then screens and tracks the personal data they are sending out on the Internet. The software alerts you to the information that companies are buying. The company values each user's data at a total of $12 per year, so that's how much it costs to sell your data. After Enliken takes its 10 percent cut, users are given the choice of which charity to donate the remainder of the money to.

So is there a reason to sign up for Enliken's services aside from wanting to donate to a charity? Co-founder Marc Guldimann told the New York Times, "We see data as a currency. Why don't we help the people who are creating the information monetize it?" Guldimann added, "We think that letting individuals offer a competing product in the marketplace for consumer data is the most efficient and least destructive way to move the Internet to a privacy-friendly space."

So far Enliken has teamed up with 10 nonprofits, including Autism Speaks and Soles 4 Soles, a charity that donates shoes to those in need. Of course the company faces some obstacles with funding and already-established competitors, but Guldimann thinks that he and his team can change public perception about data collection -- and that sharing yourself online can accomplish a whole lot of good.

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