Looking back (and a little bit forward)


This is Mike and the Mechanics. They sang the words “looking back over my shoulder” which I have had stuck in my head since I started this post.

Happy New Year!

I thought I would take this opportunity to recap on the past year, as a way to take stock and realise that I maybe actually did achieve some stuff  (hello impostor syndrome, my old friend), and lay out some of the things I have coming up in 2020.

2019 was the first year of the 2 year research project ReEnTrust, which I spend half my time working on. It is a collaboration between the Universities of Nottingham, Edinburgh, and Oxford, and focusses on issues on user trust in algorithmically mediated platforms. I work mostly on the part of the project that focuses on identifying the things that affect people’s trust in the websites they use, and how this might affect their behaviour and general wellbeing. In 2019 we ran 9 workshops with 75 participants in 2 age groups – 16-25 and over 65s. Other areas of the project have run stakeholder and policy engagement workshops, created mockups and prototypes of online tools, and ran public engagement events. The project followed on from the previous UnBias project, which we continue to publish results from. Four of my 2019 papers led directly from these projects:

I have had an abstract accepted to Ethicomp which will take place in Logroño, in La Rioja, Spain in June. It describes the preliminary creation of a scale to measure Online Wellbeing and trust. I will also be submitting a full paper for publication in an accompanying book/proceedings. We also submitted a journal paper on the impact of algorithmic decision-making processes on young people’s wellbeing just before Christmas, so hopefully that will be successful too.  This year will also see a large online study with the Online Wellbeing Scale and Trust Index to investigate how using the Internet affects general wellbeing and trust. We are also working on papers on online transparency, age appropriate content moderation, and the results of the workshops with both the older and younger adults so I’m going to be kept pretty busy writing!

The rest of my time is spent working on various other projects, some of which will hopefully also bare fruit in 2020. The ‘In My Seat’ project aimed to look at using technology to engage users of public transport in their journeys, and just before Christmas we submitted a paper detailing the co-creation of a prototype app. Also towards the end of the year we released our final online study for our project on Personal Understanding of Data, which is still running, and will be written up into a journal paper later this year. 

Finally, last year I spent quite a bit of time pursuing my own research interests in citizen science and crowdsourcing. This led to the following papers:


I also published a working paper on SSRN, resulting in work which will take up half of my time for at least the first part of this year, looking at the psychological basis of motivation to take part in online citizen science on the Zooniverse, including basic psychological needs and psychological distance. This is a result of years of useful chats (me rambling on to people who smile politely), and I am hugely excited about it.  

I also have some pretty exciting life changes coming up this year, so there may well be a part two of this blog. But for now, Happy New Year and good luck to us all for 2020.


[CfP] Sharing personal data with online services and apps


What types of information are you willing to share with online services, apps, websites and other digital platforms?

When you are asked to share this information, does the type of service it is affect this decision?

We are currently running an ONLINE QUESTIONNAIRE to examine these questions. You will be shown a series of hypothetical apps and asked about the data you would be willing to share to use such a service. 

This research aims to understand how users of online services think about different types of data. To do this, a series of hypothetical apps have been created; this study will ask you to consider the use of different types of data by these services. The questionnaire should take no longer than 30 minutes and is open to everyone over the age of 18. 

Your participation will contribute to an ongoing research project to understand why different types of personal data are considered more or less controversial with regards to sharing with online services.

On completion you will be entered into a £50 voucher PRIZE DRAW

To take part click here.

University student? Do our study!


How can we raise awareness among young people (and people in general) about the human rights issues that affect lives around the world?

We are currently carrying out a study which explores the efficacy of short videos made from popular films and games for doing just that.

If you are a current university student we would love for you to take part.

The study involves completing two short questionnaires, one week apart. In the first, which should take approximately 30 minutes to complete, you will watch a short series of clips from some popular films that are adapted to discuss Human Rights issues, and to answer some questions on them. You will then be emailed a link to a second online questionnaire approximately one week later, which will ask you to reflect on the videos you watched in the previous week.  The second online survey should take approximately 5 minutes to complete.

After completing both surveys, you will be given the opportunity to supply an email address that will allow you to enter into a prize draw, where you will have the chance of winning one of two £50 Amazon vouchers.  The prize draw will take place once the questionnaire has closed.


[Belated] New Paper Alert: “… They don’t really listen to people”

Towards the end of July we had another paper published from the results of the UnBias project in the Journal of Information, Communication and Ethics in Society, entitled “…They don’t really listen to people”: Young people’s concerns and recommendations for improving online experiences. It took the results from 14 workshops carried out with young people between 13 and 17 years of age, presenting their concerns about the online world and their recommendations for making it fairer and more transparent. Much of the work done with young people surrounding their use of the internet focuses on their interactions with other people, especially online safety and cyberbullying. We took a different approach and discussed how and why websites (especially social media, search engines, entertainment, and shopping websites) collect and use personal data to present content, the underlying algorithmic processes that dictate this content, the ethics surrounding this, and what young people would like to see happen to create the ‘ideal internet’. This paper in particular focuses on agency and (dis)empowerment, and how provisions of the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) might be meaningfully enacted and enforced.

On a more personal note, this paper marks my 6th journal article published this year. I was hoping it would be out in June to get 6 for 6, but I’m pretty pleased with this! I’m spending August putting together some more papers for submission (#amwriting) but they are unlikely to be out this year. As ever, continue to watch this space.

Purpose: The voices of children and young people have been largely neglected in discussions of the extent to which the internet takes into account their needs and concerns. This paper aims to highlight young people’s lived experiences of being online.

Design/methodology/approach: Results are drawn from the UnBias project’s youth led discussions, “Youth Juries” with young people predominantly aged between 13 and 17 years.

Findings: Whilst the young people are able to use their agency online in some circumstances, many often experience feelings of disempowerment and resignation, particularly in relation to the terms and conditions and user agreements that are ubiquitous to digital technologies, social media platforms and other websites.

Practical implications: Although changes are afoot as part of the General Data Protection Regulation (herein the GDPR) to simplify the terms and conditions of online platforms (European Union, 2016), it offers little practical guidance on how it should be implemented to children. The voices and opinions of children and young people are put forward as suggestions for how the “clear communication to data subjects” required by Article 12 of the GDPR in particular should be implemented, for example, recommendations about how terms and conditions can be made more accessible.

Originality/value: Children and young people are an often overlooked demographic of online users. This paper argues for the importance of this group being involved in any changes that may affect them, by putting forward recommendations from the children and young people themselves.”

New Paper Alert: Quantifying gendered participation in OpenStreetMap

We have a new paper out in GeoJournal: Quantifying gendered participation in OpenStreetMap: responding to theories of female (under) representation in crowdsourced mapping. It is based on the work of Dr Zoe Gardner investigating the gender balance in contributions to OpenStreetMap, an online crowdsourced mapping project. Women contribute much less to the project, and when they do, they exhibit different behaviours to men, both in which categories they work and what kind of work they do. This has implications for the kind of content that gets added to maps, and how this relates to the overall interests of the wider community. This paper addresses this as well as the discourses on gender relations and motivational factors that may lead to this imbalance. This was a fun and interesting paper to work on with Zoe.

“This paper presents the results of an exploratory quantitative analysis of gendered contributions to the online mapping project OpenStreetMap (OSM), in which previous research has identified a strong male participation bias. On these grounds, theories of representation in volunteered geographic information (VGI) have argued that this kind of crowdsourced data fails to embody the geospatial interests of the wider community. The observed effects of the bias however, remain conspicuously absent from discourses of VGI and gender, which proceed with little sense of impact. This study addresses this void by analysing OSM contributions by gender and thus identifies differences in men’s and women’s mapping practices. An online survey uniquely captured the OSM IDs as well as the declared gender of 293 OSM users. Statistics relating to users’ editing and tagging behaviours openly accessible via the ‘how did you contribute to OSM’ wiki page were subsequently analysed. The results reveal that volumes of overall activity as well editing and tagging actions in OSM remain significantly dominated by men. They also indicate subtle but impactful differences in men’s and women’s preferences for modifying and creating data, as well as the tagging categories to which they contribute. Discourses of gender and ICT, gender relations in online VGI environments and competing motivational factors are implicated in these observations. As well as updating estimates of the gender participation bias in OSM, this paper aims to inform and stimulate subsequent discourses of gender and representation towards a new rationale for widening participation in VGI.”

New Paper Alert: Presentation methods for conducting youth juries

We have a new paper out today in PLOS One: A comparison of presentation methods for conducting youth juries.  A big part of our previous projects,  UnBias and CasMa (Citizen-centric approaches to Social Media analysis) was enabling young people to increase their digital literacy and awareness of issues surrounding their rights online and how their personal data is used by algorithms to affect what they see. Part of this was developing the Youth Jury methodology, an interactive workshop/focus group based around principles of deliberation. The juries which were run as part of CasMa were created in association with 5Rights Foundation, and involved co-created scenarios with actors, which the young people could then use to talk about their opinions and feelings, producing a series of recommendations for making the online world a fairer, more transparent place. Both the CasMa and UnBias resources have been published as Online Educational Resources available to all: 5Rights Youth Juries and UnBias Youth Juries. The current paper shows that using the 5Rights resources, which include video-recorded versions of the scenarios, is just as effective in promoting discussion and empowerment amongst young people as the live action versions originally used by the research team  (quite a novelty to be pleased about non-significant results!). We want as many people as possible to to be able to use these resources, so if you’re interested, check them out and take a look at the paper. It also discusses the use of vignettes in education, and the importance of digital literacy and digital rights, adding to the literature on both these topics. 

“The 5Rights Youth Juries are an educational intervention to promote digital literacy by engaging participants (i.e. jurors) in a deliberative discussion around their digital rights. The main objective of these jury-styled focus groups is to encourage children and young people to identify online concerns and solutions with a view to developing recommendations for government policy-makers and industry chiefs. The methodology included a series of dramatized scenarios that encourage jurors to deliberate about their digital rights. This paper compares two formats for these scenarios: live actors and professionally recorded and edited videos of the same actors. Results failed to show any major differences between formats indicating the cost-effectiveness of the video-recorded format and the possibility for others to run the 5Rights Youth Juries with the support of an online open educational resource.”