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Human behaviour can be studied in an unprecedented level of detail with the digital trace data that we all create when using digital platforms. A consortium of six Dutch universities has been awarded a multi-year grant to develop an infrastructure where individuals can donate their digital trace data to academic research.

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Digital trace data left by individuals when using digital platforms can be used to study human behaviour and interaction at an unprecedented level of detail. But most data are closed off in proprietary archives of commercial corporations, with only a subset available to a small set of elite researchers. The General Data Protection Regulation (Article 15) however gives individuals rights to download their data from any organization which stores user data.

A consortium of six Dutch universities will develop the Digital Data Donation Infrastructure (D3I) that will enable individuals to donate their digital trace data to academic research, creating a movement in which users and academics come together to share and make use of data rights. This may include, for example, the content of one’s activity on social media, videos watched or music listened to on streaming services, or usage of ride-sharing apps – among other platforms and services. The consortium received a Platform Digitale Infrastructuur/Social Sciences & Humanities grant.

Turning the user-platform-researcher relationship around

D3I turns the user-platform-researcher relationship around. Instead of researchers being dependent on platforms to study individuals, it enables researchers to work directly with individuals to study both individuals’ own behaviour and platforms themselves. 'This allows researchers to collect crucial data to study causes, contents, and consequences of (online) communication, behaviour and cultural production and consumption within platforms’, says Theo Araujo, one of the project coordinators. Central to D3I are the respect for individual privacy, agency, and the security of the donator’s data.

Built in a flexible and extensible manner, D3I will initially cover popular online platforms and, importantly, it will provide the legal and methodological framework necessary to help accelerate and expand critical Social Sciences & Humanities research across university and disciplinary boundaries.

Consortium

From the Faculty of Social & Behavioural Sciences at the University of Amsterdam, the project will be led by ASCoR researchers Theo Araujo and Judith Möller. The consortium is further composed by researchers from UvA’s Institute for Information Law (IvIR), Radboud University, VU Amsterdam, Utrecht University, Tilburg University and Erasmus University Rotterdam.