Horizon CDT Research Highlights

Research Highlights

Exploration of mechanisms that influence data legibility, negotiability and agency to build better trust, privacy and symmetry in a personal data ecosystem

  Neelima Sailaja (2015 cohort)   www.nottingham.ac.uk/~psxns1

Today, every individual could be thought of as living in a data oriented eco-system. One which provides increasingly data driven, personalised and context sensitive services which are provided in return for the personal data that they are required to share. This ecosystem is asymmetric in terms of power over data (World Economic Forum & Boston Consulting Group 2012), as presently users exercise minimum or even no control over their data. For this situation to become more balanced, the ‘dialogue’ between users and services needs to be more than ‘ticking’ a Terms and Conditions’ box.

The BBC is interested in learning how to create and maintain this balance in their personalised services for which they aim to leverage users’ personal data. They are keen on understanding user attitudes and behaviours within this eco-system and evaluate if data literacy and new technologies that support consumer agency could build greater trust, satisfaction and partnership across a personal data ecosystem. The learnings of this research will be used to inform the My BBC initiative (Fearnley, 2015) which is currently building BBC digital identities for users, so as to gather users’ personal data to deliver adapted and personalised broadcast content to users.

My research will be exploring mechanisms that might improve data legibility, negotiability and agency in a data economy. It is not yet another description of the challenge, but it will be building on such concepts as Human Data Interaction (Mortier et al. n.d.) to help propose methods to infuse symmetry into the setting.

The key purpose of the research is to understand and build better user satisfaction, trust, privacy and partnership in a data centric eco-system. This would firstly entail describing the ecosystem and the attitudes and behaviours within it as a baseline. The next step would be to uncover new dialogues and technologies that might shift these attitudes and behaviours of the audiences/users/consumers to one that displays more data literacy and consequential user agency. This should effectively result in every individual being more aware of the data flow and its consequences, including the new mechanisms in place to exercise user agency over the way agreements that trade services for data are entered. This process will involve understanding users’ mental model of data and data flow in a data economy, introducing technology probes to influence this system to maximise the value of the services provided by influencing the trust, privacy, symmetry and control in the system and studying the effects of these mechanisms on user attitudes and behaviours. The involvement of the BBC will enable further focus on broadcast and new media interactions for the application of the research.

Through my research, I intend to go beyond the challenge description of asymmetry in the personal data ecosystem. The research aims to understand and explore mechanisms that might influence user attitudes and behaviour in this ecosystem, to provide better trust, privacy and symmetry, by improving data legibility, negotiability and agency, in a broadcast and media backdrop.


  1. Fearnley, P. (2015, March 2). myBBC: Transforming the BBC to make it personal. Retrieved from BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/aboutthebbc/entries/46a896ea-e587-4c63-ae7e-9781bca58dd3
  2. Mortier, R. et al., Human-Data Interaction?: The Human Face of the Data-Driven Society.
  3. World Economic Forum & Boston Consulting Group, 2012. Rethinking Personal Data?: Strengthening Trust. , (May), pp.1–35.

This author is supported by the Horizon Centre for Doctoral Training at the University of Nottingham (RCUK Grant No. EP/L015463/1) and BBC.