University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Politics and Paradoxes of Transparency CRASSH Research Group > Wearables and the Quantified Self: Transparency, Big Data and Solidarity

Wearables and the Quantified Self: Transparency, Big Data and Solidarity

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Abstract Murray Goulden:

The Internet of Things, alongside existing mobile digital technologies, heralds a world in which pervasive sensing constantly captures data about us. Simultaneous with this technology programme are moves by policymakers to shore up the digital economy through the legislating of new trust-building models of data management. These moves seek to give individuals control and oversight of their personal data. Within shared settings, the consequences of these changes are the large-scale generation of interpersonal data generated by and acting on the group rather than individual. We consider how such systems create new forms of observability and hence accountability among members of the home, and draw on the work of Simmel and Goffman to explore how these demands are managed. Such management mitigates the more extreme possibilities for domestic monitoring posited by these systems, yet without careful design there remains a considerable danger of unanticipated negative consequences.

Abstract Svetlana Smirnova: During my presentation, I hope to initiate a debate about three transparency-related issues in the context of self-tracking in everyday life. My presentation is based on ongoing fieldwork for a qualitative longitudinal study. The study has a three fold sequential design: a narrative interview, a reflexive diary, and a semi-structured interview based on the findings from the first two stages. The informants for the study come from four different tracking backgrounds: casual users, professional athletes, medical professionals, and individuals living with chronic health conditions. While the main aim of the study is to explore how self-tracked data contributes to our sense of self as individuals and society, the issues of transparency and associated issues of data risks, power, and privacy are ever present in discussion and reflexive diaries of the participants. My preliminary analysis indicated three transparency-related questions requiring theoretical attention. First question, who defines what “healthy” is and how it is measured? This question arises from the tension between the claims for revolutionizing potential of self-tracked data and obscurity with which health recommendations are devised and health indicators measured. Second question, how can the idea of transparency help us navigate the data dimension of our lives? This question addresses the tension of unseen risks that might not affect us immediately, yet might be detrimental to our lives. In other words, what do we know/how deeply do we care about how our very personal data is collected, stored, and used. Third question, how can the notion of transparency help us balance risks and benefits of self-tracking practices in everyday life. This question is about how do we want to see data-related practices developing in the future. As one of my participants puts it, it is about the balance between the sales we want to see and big business profiling we want to avoid. During the presentation I will discuss some preliminary insights in relation to these questions. In the duration of the discussion period I am hoping to gather theoretical perspective that might be useful in making sense of my initial empirical findings.

This talk is part of the Politics and Paradoxes of Transparency CRASSH Research Group series.

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