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. It is based on a three-year research project with parents in London and Los Angeles, which included the collection of fifty in-depth interviews, a digital ethnography of “sharenting” activities on social media by eight families over the course of eight months, and a two-year exploration of the datafication of my own family. I complemented my ethnographic findings with a platform analysis of four social media platforms, ten health tracking apps, four home hubs, and four educational platforms, investigating the privacy policies, business models, and patent applications that enable the mining of children’s data. The empirical research was funded by the British Academy (2018-2019) and relied on an advisory board of international experts.
Although the primary empirical research is now completed and will be published in the book Child | Data | Citizen: How Tech Companies are Profiling Us from before Birth. (MIT Press, 2020). Through the Child | Data | Citizen project will continue to research, write and campaign on the impact of children’s data traces on their civic rights.