‘Depends on Who’s Got the Data’: Public Understandings of Personal Digital Dataveillance

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Deborah Lupton
Mike Michael


Post-Snowden, several highly-publicised events and scandals have drawn attention to the use of people’s personal data by other actors and agencies, both legally and illicitly. In this article, we report the findings of a project in which we used cultural probes to generate discussion about personal digital dataveillance. What emerged from our focus groups is a somewhat diffuse but quite extensive understanding on the part of the participants of the ways in which data may be gathered about them and the uses to which these data may be put. We found that the participants tended to veer between recognising the value of both personal data and the big aggregated data sets that their own data may be part of, particularly for their own convenience, and expressing concern or suspicion about how these data may be used by others. Our findings suggest that experimenting with innovative approaches to elicit practices and understandings of personal digital data offers further possibilities for greater depth and breadth of social research with all types of social groups.


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