Data, socially distanced: cumulative data disclosure and data narratives during Covid

Burkhard Schafer, Emma Nicol, Wendy Moncur, Amal Htait, Jo Briggs, Leif Azzopardi, Daniel Carey

Research output: Unpublished contribution to conferenceAbstractpeer-review


The paper discusses methodological issues of, and some first results from, a research project into legal and technological responses to the risk of cumulative disclosure of data. Pieces of personal data shared and generated across multiple platforms can collectively pose risks to reputation and security, for individuals, their employers and their nation. As part of this project, we conducted qualitative interviews with 26 participants, which examined their personal digital ecosystems. Crucially, the beginning of the study coincided with the outbreak of the COVID pandemic. This not only required changes to interviewing modality, it also meant that the interviewees were experiencing an unprecedented need to adjust their own online presence and working patterns. The theoretical lens through which we analyse the interviews is that of "data narratives" as a sense-making activity. But how can people construct such narratives in the face of unprecedented disruption of their lives? What value is there in concepts such as "context collapse" when it is not any longer a hidden feature of social media use, but becomes the most visible aspects of daily experience, as the home becomes also the office? We discuss themes associated with digital traces, Lockdown-specific changes in practice and the metaphors we may want to use to make sense of them – including those from the pandemic discourse itself. We conclude by discussing the implications of cumulative revelations for individuals and employers and the intersection with COVID-related homeworking on online practices and behaviours.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 14 Apr 2021


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