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 question about children’s digital 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 digital 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 project talks directly to this transformation. It is funded by the British Academy and its aim is to provide a rich, qualitative analysis of the multiple ways in which families produce children’s digital traces. The research focuses on families in the U.K. and the U.S. with children between 0 and 13 years of age. It investigates how parents understand online privacy and how they negotiate with the advent of big data and artificial intelligence.
By asking to consider the bound relationship between children’s digital traces and digital citizenship, the project aims to add to contemporary debates about big data. Yet rather than focusing on the political economy of ‘big data’, it looks at the micro, intimate contexts of data cultures and considers not only the role data plays in family life but also the way in which people negotiate with and imagine their data futures.