It’s 2015, do you know where your data are? The Data Trail Badge

This guest post was written by Tamara Shepherd, collaborator on the “Co-Designing Open Badges for Privacy Education with Canadian Youth” project.

Social network collage image

“Social Network” by Kevin Dooley under CC-BY 2.0

Understanding where personal information goes online is an important dimension to appreciating the importance of digital privacy. The Data Trail Badge seeks to illuminate the everyday ways that personal information can be collected and tracked by communications technologies. The objective of this badge involves not only tracing different data trails, but building up a story about how privacy issues might be involved in typical daily life. Storytelling offers an important way to illustrate just how pervasive data collection is across all kinds of communication activities.

Early Data Trail Timeline Design

Early Data Trail Timeline Design

Online tracking is one of the key concerns of privacy advocates because of the way that almost all online communication results in data collection. When you post a photo on Facebook, send an email through Gmail, or buy a book on Amazon, sensitive personal information is collected by these organizations and might also be further sent on to third-parties – other companies such as advertisers who want to find out what kinds of people are interested in certain products or services. In addition to commercial data collection, governments have long been collecting and storing personal information about their citizens as part of services such as healthcare, border control and education.

Added to these legal kinds of data collection, there is also the possibility with online communication that these data trails could get illegally intercepted. This is because of the way that networked communication involves information transfer through diverse nodes of the network. At each node, there is the potential for data to be copied and stored by intervening actors, meaning that multiple copies of people’s personal information can potentially get intercepted and breached.

Data Trail Timeline Badge Final

Data Trail Timeline Badge Design Final

Yet despite the potential privacy concerns raised by everyday communications activities, most people don’t know or even notice that their information gets collected. This is where the Data Trail Badge, currently in draft form as an activity kit, contributes a new way of thinking about data collection as ubiquitous. By creating a timeline that reflects your data trail for a typical day, and then presenting that timeline audio-visually using Mozilla’s Popcorn Maker or Google Slides. These kinds of timelines will further help other people to understand just how common data collection is, and how they should start to take steps to be aware of where their information might be going.