Dirk Riehle's Industry and Research Publications

Funding universal basic income with rent from your data

A person’s universal basic income (UBI) is income that this person is guaranteed to receive whatever their living circumstances. The income should allow the person to have a humane life, i.e. pay for food and housing, healthcare and so forth.

One concern is that UBI may be too costly. Most assume that UBI will paid from taxes and with large unemployment numbers might take away funds from other undertakings. I think debates about public budgets are a red herring, however, it is nevertheless worthwhile to think about other sources for universal basic income.

One yet untapped source of income for every person is the data about their behavior as participants in society. At present, this data is collected by large corporations (Google, Facebook, Tencent, etc.) and they use it for their own economic gain. The data is valuable, because you can recommend better products, provide needed information, or, in the worst case, manipulate people.

A person’s data should generate income for that person, in ways that they agree to. A person could rent out access to some or all of their data and let companies apply their algorithms to it for their gain. This obviously requires legislation that prevents companies from using personal data without consent. It also needs to prevent people from selling access to their data permanently so that rent from this data does indeed become something like an annuity.

Reasserting people’s ownership over their data is not a new concept. Many have asked to give citizens back their data autonomy and prevent tracking and usage of their data without clear consent. GDPR etc. are steps into that direction.

What is new here is the idea of a data economy, where a renewable resource, a person’s digital behavior, is turned into a rent to help pay for universal basic income. Of course, rent from data does not have to be mixed with UBI, but it certainly makes it more palatable.


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