Current Research Projects

Risk Perceptions of Users and Good Practice Advice for Data­ Driven Organizations

The research project is fully funded by the Dutch NWO (Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek)

This project researches risk perceptions about data, technology, and digital transformation in society and how to build trust between organisations and users to ensure sustainable data ecologies. The aim is to understand the role of the user in a tech-driven environment and her perception of the resulting relationships with organisations that offer data-driven services and products. The discourseon digital transformation is productive but does not truly address the user’s attitudes and awareness(Kitchin 2014). Companies are not aware enough of the potential accidents and resulting loss of trustthat undermine data ecologies and, consequently, forfeit their beneficial potential. Facebook’sCambridge Analytica-situation, for instance, led to 42% of US adults deleting their accounts and caused considerable losses for the company.

Social, political, and economic interactions are increasingly digitalised, which comes with hands-on benefits but also challenges privacy, individual well-being and a fair society. User awareness of organisational practices is of heightened importance, as vulnerabilities for users equal vulnerabilities for data ecologies. Without transparency and a new “social contract” for a digital society, problems are inevitable. Recurring scandals about data leaks and biased algorithms are just two examples that illustrate the urgency of this research. Properly informing users about an organisation’s data policies makes a crucial difference (Accenture 2018) and for them to develop sustainable business models, organisations need to understand what users expect and how to communicate with them. This research project tackles this issue head-on.

First, a deeper understanding of users’ risk perception is needed to formulate concrete policy recommendations aiming to educate and build trust. Second, insights about users’ perceptions will inform guidelines. Through empirical research on framing in the data discourse, user types, and trends in organisational practice, the project develops concrete advice – for users and practitioners alike – on building sustainable relationships in a resilient digital society.

Research Question

An abundance of research discusses the transformations triggered by data from professional perspectives, but few address the very source: the data-generating user and her views, especially in regard to risk awareness. Mostly, they focus on the chances and limits of data-driven operations for organisations, and research. However, the user perspective receives only a short discussion in sections on ethics and data collection (e.g. Kitchin 2014: 165; Mayer-Schönberger & Ramge 2017; McAffee & Brynjolfsson 2017), and that is it. Even books dedicated to criticising malpractice in data business cannot provide an in-depth analysis of the users’ view but reflect on problems from thepractitioner’s perspective (O’Neil 2017). This is a costly oversight: organisations losing their users’trust cannot sustain their data ecologies and will lose money in revenues as a result. While practitioners may not be aware that they need tools in this respect, they urgently do.

This research project, therefore, will develop a toolset for identifying and assessing risk awareness related to data collection and building trust in order to gain user engagement and maintaining beneficial data ecologies. The four main research questions are:

  • How do stakeholders frame risks and chances of digitalisation and datafication in public discourse?
  • How do users differ in regard to attitudes towards data-driven organisational practice and risk awareness?
  • What are expert views on current trends in digitalisation and datafication and what challenges do they expect to emerge?
  • What creative-educational measures can increase transparency and incentivise trust- oriented dialogue between users and organisations?
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