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Street art project puts a price on your personal data

Ben Eine invites us to consider the value of the information we give away for free.


Ben Eine in the Data Dollar Store.

Nicholas Tufnell/CNET

A popular street artist opens a pop-up shop on your way to the office, and you relish the opportunity to take a bit of his work home. But there's a catch: Your money is no good here. Instead, you have to trade some of your personal data to carry off a print.

Would you do it? That's exactly the question that Ben Eine, a London street artist known for his famous lettering style, wants you to answer. For two days this week, Eine has been selling limited edition prints at the Data Dollar Store, located in a temporary space at the Old Street Underground station in east London.

Seeking to highlight the value of personal data, Eine opened the shop in partnership with cybersecurity company Kaspersky Lab. Eine says he's interested in how freely we give our personal information to big social media companies like Facebook and their advertisers.


Customers wait in line to enter the Data Dollar Store.

Nicholas Tufnell/CNET

"I'm concerned about how that information is used and why are we not rewarded for giving this information away," he told me. "Companies use that information and target us to sell products, to feed us information that we wouldn't necessarily look at. And I thought this is a good opportunity to raise awareness."

Here's how the store works: When you enter the Data Dollar Store, an assistant will present you with a few purchasing options. The more data you give up, the better the prize.

After queueing for an hour, my offers were a mug in return for three pictures from my phone of my own choosing, a T-shirt for three pictures of the assistant's choosing, or a limited edition print for five pictures of the assistant's choosing. All photos I relinquish are publicly displayed on a large TV screen in the shop window for two days.

I went for the full five. My phone was swiftly snatched from my hand, the photos were AirDropped onto the store's iPads, and before I had time to think about how foolish I had or hadn't been, my daft selfies were being broadcast for all of Old Street station to see.


These mugs could be yours, but are you willing to pay the price?

Nicholas Tufnell/CNET

Despite giving the assistant my permission, having a stranger look through my phone was an uncomfortable experience. But that's really the point, Eine says: to make people aware of the value of their own data.

His fears regarding the protection of data are not unfounded. According to Kaspersky Lab figures from 2016, 74 percent of people surveyed in the UK are unconcerned about the security of their data, 41 percent are unprotected from potential threats and 20 percent have been affected by cybercrime. In the same year the Information Commissioner's Office, a UK independent body set up to uphold information rights, saw a 278 percent increase in cyber incidents in the health sector and 71 percent in the general business sector.

I asked Eine if he would be willing to go through the process himself. His answer was clear: "If someone said to me, 'Give me your telephone, let me pick five photographs and we're going to put it on a monitor there and in return we'll give you a print that's worth, like, I don't know, £150 or whatever,' I'd be like, 'No fucking way! Like, no way!'"

If you're in London and you'd like to visit Eine's shop, you'd better be quick. The Data Dollar Store is open in Old Street station through today, 7 Sept., until 7:00 pm.

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