New Telenor-led research project gives valuable insight into what people do on their smartphones, while simultaneously raising awareness of the data trail that everyone leaves behind.
Fourteen students from the University of Bergen’s digital culture class went around with Samsung Galaxy smartphones for three months, using an application that recorded their every mobile move. The students were participants in a pilot research project, led by Telenor researcher Beathe Due. Due determined that students were a good place to start when looking for more insight into data usage trends and increasing digital competence among youth.
A digital scrapbook of your life
Each member of the digital culture class, taught by Professor Jill Walker Rettberg – a leading mind in the world of blogging – was invited to install a test application on their smartphones. The application was meant to serve as a “self-writing scrapbook” and once the students were signed up, the app began to track their actions, from text messages and voice calls to photos taken. Some students referred to it as surveillance, others called it a digital diary.
“The application used in this pilot project collected information on the usage of the mobile phone and presented it back in an easy-to-understand format,” said Beathe Due, Media Research Director, Research and Future Studies in Telenor Group. “The main goal of the project is to build tools to increase digital literacy, especially for students and youth. All the information collected from this project going forward will be anonymized and gathered in an open database that Telenor and the student participants can access and use, so that they can truly understand their own data trail.”
Crowdsourcing mobile usage
Due refers to this project as “crowdsourcing mobile usage”, as she is outsourcing the analysis of this data to the people who are actually generating it. Through this project Telenor is creating a database of information on smartphone usage to which the company would otherwise not have access.
“This is data that is voluntarily generated by the people participating in the project,” explained Due. “It’s informed consent; they know what they are sharing with us and they also know that they are getting this information back.”
An expanding database of smartphone information
As the project expands to other groups of students in other parts of the world, Due envisions an ever-expanding database filled with anonymous data on smartphone usage that Telenor, along with everyone participating in the research project, can access.
“This data gives us insight into what people are actually doing with their smartphones, beyond voice and SMS. Our study will tell us when they use all kinds of mobile services, such as Facebook, for how long and how often during the day. I believe that this will lead us to new ideas and a better understanding of our customers,” explained Due.
“At the same time, giving this data back to the users is a matter of social responsibility. People need to understand what they leave behind when using the Internet and this project allows them to see it, use it, analyze it and hopefully innovate. It’s a win-win situation. We can help increase digital competency, and we need people with digital competence and confidence to help analyze this data,” she added.
The students respond
“We wanted to investigate how it feels to be under surveillance, voluntarily,” said one student on why he felt it was important to participate. In general, the students expressed concerns over privacy and experienced a heightened awareness of just how much they were sharing. “It scared us,” seemed to be a mutual conclusion among the participants.
As the pilot is now wrapped, Due plans to officially launch this project in the fall, with the intention of expanding it to students in Asia. She and her research team are currently investigating different types of applications that can be used for the project. They are seeking an application that gives value back to the participants and allows for easy data analysis.
Give back the data
“In my opinion, it is important to raise awareness of the data we leave behind. There is a trend towards opening up the data that companies collect and giving it back. My goal is to create theories and new practices. Let’s use this data, create awareness and help build competence. Personal data is a currency, and I want young people to know that, learn from it and use it,” concluded Due.