Revealing cumulative risks in online personal information: a data narrative study

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

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


When pieces from an individual's personal information available online are connected over time and across multiple platforms, this more complete digital trace can give unintended insights into their life and opinions. In a data narrative interview study with 26 currently employed participants, we examined risks and harms to individuals and employers when others joined the dots between their online information. We discuss the themes of visibility and self-disclosure, unintentional information leakage and digital privacy literacies constructed from our analysis. We contribute insights not only into people's difficulties in recalling and conceptualising their digital traces but of subsequently envisioning how their online information may be combined, or (re)identified across their traces and address a current gap in research by showing that awareness is lacking around the potential for personal information to be correlated by and made coherent to/by others, posing risks to individuals, employers, and even the state. We touch on inequalities of privacy, freedom and legitimacy that exist for different groups with regard to what they make (or feel compelled to make) available online and we contribute to current methodological work on the use of sketching to support visual sense making in data narrative interviews. We conclude by discussing the need for interventions that support personal reflection on the potential visibility of combined digital traces to spotlight hidden vulnerabilities and promote more proactive action about what is shared and not shared online.
Original languageEnglish
Article number323
Number of pages25
JournalProceedings of the ACM on Human-Computer Interaction
Issue numberCSCW2
Publication statusPublished - 11 Nov 2022

Bibliographical note

Copyright © 2022 Owner/Author

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution International 4.0 License.

Funding Information:
This work was sponsored by EPSRC grants EP/R033889/1, EP/R033889/2, EP/R033854/1 and EP/R033870/1.


  • cybersecurity
  • digital traces
  • human computer interaction
  • personal data
  • research design


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