This is the master thesis work of Joanna Sleigh, department of Visual and Media Anthropology at Freie Universität Berlin, Germany. It is an empirical research study that uses qualitative methods to explore the phenomenon of digital data shadow donation as a new form of civic engagement and political action triggered through the awareness that data is not merely a commodity or a tool for surveillance but is also a metaphor for power.
Through the use of a digital anthropological methodology grounded in phenomenology, this research investigates the motivations and experiences of individuals who are donating their digital data shadows to the platform OurDataHelps.org. This platform is an open data initiative advancing medical health research of suicide and mental health. The aim of this research is to understand how digital data donors experience living in a world in which data has become a new fabric of social life. This project belongs to the dominion of research documenting citizens putting data to new uses, developing new rationalities and alternative social imaginaries around datafication.
Central to my ethnographic research are the following questions : How can we understand a donor’s relationship to their digital shadow? How does a data donor perceive the value of their data? How do individuals experience ‘donating’ their digital traces?
To comprehend the motivations and experiences of data shadow donation, I use a variety of different qualitative data methods that are grounded in digital anthropology and phenomenology. Specifically, the modes used are:
Digital data shadow donation is an extremely private and anonymous experience. My interactions with participants in this research project are thus entirely transparent. Throughout the process, participants have maintained privacy and can be unreserved in their documentation of feelings and emotions. I have made sure to remove identifying details that might contribute to the vulnerability of persons and projects. All data collected and stored is with their approval to ensure the ethical responsibility of this research. Moreover, the ethical and personal implications of the research processes are continuously revised. Ultimately I aim to write and publish this research in an accessible way.