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data, for goodness sake

Quantified Self Report Card:
User Rights in the Age of Biometric Tracking

Since the rapid rise of computer and information technology, the privacy and security of user data has been a concern for many. With the mass societal adoption of the Internet, major companies and even governments now have access to accumulative databases of all-encompassing user information aggregated over long periods of time. International regulator organizations and activist nonprofits have proposed various frameworks to ensure that such databases are protected, rather than exploited. When we choose to use these advanced and increasingly ubiquitous devices and services, we “opt in” to a new reality of constant monitoring which provides more complete “pictures” of our daily lives than we ever imagined possible. However, the companies which provide such devices and services often make it difficult for users to decide, or even understand, how their data is being collected and utilized. Thus, we must quickly move to supplement the existing efforts of user rights watchdog organizations with a critical eye toward these new forms of data tracking and collection.

The Human Data Commons Foundation believes a new understanding of user rights in the Quantified Self field must start with an investigation of the user experience itself. A great deal of active research is underway to analyze the content of privacy policies with machine learning technology, and legal and academic scholars are making consistent progress in establishing ethical norms for industry best practices. However, these approaches must be supplemented by a focus on the navigability of the website and application interfaces “at first glance.” The average user cannot make choices about the privacy and security practices of a company if they can’t find or understand its documentation. Thus, we have undertaken a preliminary qualitative assessment of the perceived transparency and accessibility of such information in Quantified Self-companies’ user-facing websites.

BOOK CHAPTER: Metric Culture: Ontologies of Self Tracking Practices

HDC contributed a chapter in this 2018 publication that examines what is meant by “metric culture” and takes a critical look at the many ways practices of self-tracking and quantification that have emerged in almost every sphere of life. HDC’s chapter, titled A Quantified Self Report Card: Ethical Considerations of Privacy as Commodity is available for download or you may view the whole book here.