The lived experience of childhood is being transformed by the production of personally identifying digital data. From doctor’s appointments to artificial intelligence in the home, from social media to mobile apps, children’s everyday life is recorded, stored and shared in ways that were not possible before.
This research project argues that the question about children’s data traces, today, is tightly interconnected to new questions about ‘digital citizenship’. This is not only because being able to appropriate personal data flows means being able to represent ourselves in public but also because children’s data traces need to be understood with reference to broader processes of surveillance of citizen’s personal data.
In the past, digital citizenship has been defined as an empowering concept to describe how citizens used digital technologies to participate in society. Today digital citizenship is being transformed by our new data cultures. From the moment in which citizens are born, they are forced to ‘digitally participate’ in society because their personal data is digitised, shared, stored, analysed and exploited for them by others.
The Child | Data | Citizen talks about this transformation. The project is funded by the British Academy and relies on an advisory board of international experts. Its aim is to provide a rich, qualitative analysis of the impact of big data and AI on family life. Methodologically the project is based on the belief that – in order to understand the multiple and complex ways in which the cultural phenomenon of big data is transforming family life – we need to consider the relationship between U.K. and U.S. ethnographic contexts. Therefore, Dr Barassi worked with families in London and Los Angeles, with children between 0 and 13 years of age, whose personal information online is ruled by the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (1998). The research relied on a multi-method approach, which combines 50 semi-structured in-depth interviews, one year of auto-ethnographic participant observation, 9 months of digital ethnography of the social media of 8 families, 2 focus groups, and qualitative platform analysis (4 social media platforms, 10 early infancy apps, 4 AI devices and Home automation hubs and 2 AI Toys).