In today's interconnected world, people engage in numerous interactions through Internet-based services, spanning various aspects of their lives, from work to public administration, education, and social activities. Within these interactions, data is shared, collected, communicated, managed, and stored in ways that are not transparent, leaving users with little insight into the handling of their own data. Despite the regulatory frameworks like GDPR and fundamental privacy rights governing these networks of data exchange, there exists a profound lack of knowledge and comprehension among citizens regarding Internet Data Flows (IDFs).
In their use of web-services, citizens often have limited means to discern who can access their personal information, and how their data is used, viewed, and shared with third parties without their consent. This deficiency in understanding and agency poses a tangible risk of eroding trust within broader society, as people are unaware of the pervasive use of their personal data, limiting citizens' democratic agency and potentially compromising their privacy.
To mitigate these issues, transparency is crucial but not the sole solution. At present, most websites provide minimal information about IDFs, typically pertaining to only the initial portion of the data flows. Hence, people may recognize that their personal data is shared with a provider, but may not be informed about the potential sharing of the same data with specific third parties.
This project addresses these challenges by investigating citizens' knowledge and perception about IDFs, as well as their needs, with the aim of developing tools that strengthen citizen agency and their control over personal data. One of the primary objectives of the project is to make IDFs "explainable" (X-IDFs), that is, transparent and actionable. For this purpose, the project aims at developing a conceptual framework that visualizes how data is shared and used by third parties.
The development of X-IDF as an actionable concept for citizens holds the potential to strengthen digital competencies and democratic agency. It seems reasonable to expect that different levels of transparency can significantly contribute to enhancing digital competences. Within the context of X-IDFs, digital competence entails that people gain the ability to envision and evaluate the consequences of their personal data flows, which subsequently enables them to adjust settings based on their preferences and assessments.
The project will achieve its goals through the following steps:
Exploring citizens' knowledge, understanding and attitudes towards IDFs and X-IDFs.
Developing a technology model that enables people to compare, visualize and comprehend and act on accessible internet data flows.
Assessing citizens’ comprehension of and trust in X-IDFs.
Matteo Acclavio, postdoc
Niels Jørgen Gommesen, postdoc
Fabrizio Montesi, professor
Claes de Vreese, professor