PhD Defense A.M. Maineri
Do you want cookies? Trust dynamics and educational gaps in the datafied risk society
- Location: Cobbenhagen building, Aula
- Supervisor: Prof. P.H.J. Achterberg
- Co-supervisor: Dr. A.R.C.M. Luijkx
Accepting cookies is an activity that most internet users routinely perform multiple times a day. Cookies are just one of the many ways in which our behaviours and preferences are tracked online and rendered into quantified bits – data. This process of rendering all aspects of life into data is called datafication, and it is today pervasive due to powerful digital tools and inexpensive storage solutions. However, the datafication process also generates risks, as individuals may lose their ability to control the flow of information about themselves – i.e., their privacy.
In the thesis I apply the Risk Society perspective proposed by Ulrich Beck to the study of datafication, to explain the uneven acknowledgment of privacy risks unfolding within the datafied society. In particular, I investigate the datafied risk society by focusing on two main questions: first, are risks induced by datafication acknowledged, and what happens once they are uncovered? And second, what is the role of knowledge in recognizing such risks?
The questions are addressed in four studies, which are based on a mix of quantitative analytical techniques applied to secondary data and survey data specifically collected for the purposes of the thesis. Results of the empirical chapters show that privacy risks are often not acknowledged: for instance, people tend to be willing to accept a privacy-intrusive vaccination certificate in the context of the COVID-19, especially when they have a high trust in the government and in science. In addition, even when confronted with the misuse of data following the Cambridge Analytica scandal, I do not detect a large drop in trust in social media. Results also show that education plays a role in shielding from privacy risks, since higher educated individuals appear more skeptical of online surveillance and are more prone to protect privacy online.
While datafication facilitates many societal operations, it also induces privacy risks which are made more acute if citizens keep ‘accepting cookies’ uncritically. In addition, measures should be introduced to ensure that vulnerable individuals are not further penalized by datafication processes, for instance by introducing online privacy skills early in the educational curricula.