Have you ever considered the commercial value contained within your personal data? Your data is similar to any other product in that it can be bought and sold on for profit. Those who buy your data are called ‘data brokers’ and they repackage it for commercial use. They then sell on your data to ‘data consumers’, such as companies conducting marketing campaigns and looking to improve their consumer engagement.
Personal data can be harvested from a variety of sources, often without consent. As the new adage goes, if the product is free, you are the product. As the world becomes more and more tech-reliant, it is widely predicted that the buying and selling of personal data will continue to increase exponentially. People are, however, becoming more aware of when they are being monitored and more careful about leaving a digital footprint. Recent technological innovations such as the new orange dot/green dot privacy feature which Apple rolled out as part of their iOS 14 update last month (to alert users when their device’s microphone or camera is recording them), indicates that even the tech world acknowledges data exploitation as a problem. Indeed, anyone running a business that has had to ensure its compliance with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will know that data and its use is a matter of increasing concern for legislators and the public alike.
But what does personal data have to do with trusts? Trustees could start utilising a settlor’s personal data to the beneficiary’s advantage (a settlor is the person setting up the trust). They should explore the opportunity of using that data to form an asset in the trust. This would be a unique example of data exploitation which benefits the person whose data is being exploited rather than a third party consumer. Given that trustees act in a fiduciary capacity, settlors may rest assured that their personal data will be used for the best interest of their beneficiaries.
It remains to be seen whether profiting from your own personal data will catch on and it is not yet certain whether the trust industry will explore this area further anytime soon. Nevertheless, even if the implementation of personal data trusts may still be several years away, this is a novel and exciting area and, in any event, society would do well to start recognising the value in the mass of data they generate on a daily basis.