Well that seems like an efficient way to purchase a new car.
Well that seems like an efficient way to purchase a new car.

How to get a $40,000 car for free

Imagine that you're buying a $40,000 car.

Now imagine a world in which you could negotiate the sale of all the data generated by its five sensors: traction control, headlights, clock, wiper and barometer.

Combined, those sensors provide very accurate data about the weather in that car's location. Who would be interested? For one, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), a scientific agency that monitors the weather and predicts serious storms like cyclones and blizzards.

Rather than seek funding for another weather station, why wouldn't the NOAA purchase up-to-the-second weather information from all the vehicles in every region of the world?

If you could sell the data from those weather-related sensors for an agreed-upon, lifetime price - let's say $3,000 - your $40,000 car now costs $37,000.

Cars also contain suspension-monitoring systems that, while providing information on the health of the vehicle's ride, also record every time the vehicle passes over rough stretches of road or highway in need of repair.

That's real-time data of interest to government agencies that maintain roads and highways.

If you could sell the information from your suspension-monitoring systems for, let's say, $5,000, the price of your new car has now been reduced to $32,000.

In some cases, brokers would act as middlemen. For example, Google already takes our personal data and uses it to attract advertising.

All of the sensors in your car could be earning you money.
All of the sensors in your car could be earning you money.

If we controlled the data generated by our car, we could sell Google the information from the sensors monitoring tire pressure, alignment and tread.

Google, in turn, could alert drivers to the need to fill up or rotate their tires and, using the car's GPS and Google Maps info, recommend a store in the area willing to do it as soon as the driver arrives for a guaranteed low price.

For the right to harvest this data, Google might pay $2,000. That $40,000 car is now $30,000.

Every driver that uses either Google's Android Auto or Apple's CarPlay also uses another sensor, the installed microphone.

With voice commands, many of us name a destination and get directions, or just say, "restaurant," and expect to be given some choices on our route.

Knowing our history of past destinations and our make and model of car, Google could make suggestions based on our habits and socio-economic status.

To the query "restaurant" from the driver of a Mercedes who likes steakhouses, Google could consult its advertisers and return the suggestion of the high-end grill.

Or the driver of a Taurus might be recommended a mid-range "Outback Steakhouse". Driving a Fiesta? Expect "McDonald's".

It could just as easily be other retail outlets, like big-box home-furnishing stores or fashion chains.

Why shouldn't we drivers be able to sell to the broker - in this case Google or Apple - the right to use our personal data in this way for, let's say, $2,000? We are now paying $28,000 for that $40,000 car.

The 2016 Mazda MX-5 RF could be yours for free.
The 2016 Mazda MX-5 RF could be yours for free.

In theory, if you sold data generated from several more sensors - and more and more sensors are being integrated into cars every year - you could dramatically reduce the price of a $40,000 car until, finally, the value of the data is equal to the price of the car and it costs you nothing: The Zero Dollar Car.

For years, retailers and municipalities passively watched as Google and its peers mastered the game of Big Data.

But that's now changing, as sensors are being deployed in previously inert objects - from fridges, microwaves and baby monitors to stop signs, parking meters and bridges.

Corporate and civic officials reassure us by saying: "We're not going to sell your data; we just want to better understand our products and services".

But the only thing stopping anyone from profiting off our data are service agreements, which are human creations that can easily be changed, especially if the temptation is there.

We know from at least one world religion that humans are susceptible to temptation.

If Eve couldn't resist the apple, how can the rest of us possibly resist selling a pile of data worth millions?

I believe we need a system that allows individuals to share in monetising their data.

Whether we're compensated directly or receive a big reduction in the price of products or services, this remains an opportunity waiting to happen.

It's up to consumers to agitate on their own behalf for the right to control the data that is, in fact, rightfully theirs to sell.

John Ellis is the author of the new book, "The Zero Dollar Car" (Barlow Publishing) and a big data futurist who speaks around the world on how information can transform our lives.

This story first appeared on the NY Post.

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