Unless you live in a cave and have never touched a smartphone or computer, you probably know it’s impossible not to leave a personal data trail online. The invisible cookies are always watching our activities, and the algorithms are always making suggestions for the benefit of the digital economy.

Once data is produced, it rarely fades away. Companies have been busy minting money by monetizing our personal data, and in return, we get to use their app, website or service “for free” and/or get a personalized service. As a result, we are becoming a type of product ourselves – as nothing comes for free.

In our study on the business value of trust, 63% of respondents believe companies are accessing personal information that wasn’t explicitly provided for their use, whether it’s their social network profiles, contact lists, location data or something else. Further, 53% of respondents said they don’t believe the claims made by companies about protecting their personal data. Many companies believe they have done their job by publishing policies regarding data privacy and security, but over half the consumers we surveyed told us, “Those policies are Greek to us!” That’s why we all glaze over at the “Terms & Conditions” before pressing the “I Accept” button – no matter how hard we try to protect our information, it’s almost impossible to do it.

Taking Control

With all the fervor over data these days, we really need to start recognizing its true value and understand that all data created by us is our personal property, not the property of the company that collected it. As consumers become more educated about how companies are using their personal data, they might be willing to assume more risk in exchange for more than simply a personalized experience or a free service. In fact, 72% of consumers in our study feel that cash rewards would motivate them to share their personal data with companies. This kind of open and transparent trade-off, called the give-to-get ratio, will be the new norm of consumer trust in the future. It’s up to us to decide what we choose to disclose or not disclose about ourselves – in which contexts and with whom.

As consumers begin to demand full control of their data, we believe a new role will emerge to ensure consumers receive maximum value from their data: a “personal data broker.”  The personal data broker will monitor and trade all forms of personal data that a client (consumer) creates from his/her micro data feeds; execute data trades on behalf of consumers; and track new ways of maximizing a client’s return on data.

Workers in this new role will establish prices and execute trades while mastering the new global code of ethics surrounding interstate, international and regional data trades. You can read a likely job description for this new role, along with information about its responsibilities and the skills and qualifications required, in our new report “21 Jobs of the Future.”

It is undeniable that we need to establish more open and honest conversations about the future of information sharing and how we want our personal data to be traded in the digital economy. We deserve more for our data, and while it may sound odd today, signing “personal data contracts” may become a new normal in the future.

This blog originally appeared on the Cognizant Center for the Future of Work website.

Manish Bahl

Manish Bahl

Manish leads Cognizant’s Center for the Future of Work in Asia Pacific and has over 14 years of research, advisory, and business... Read more