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Educating People About Data

It's impossible to talk about digital services today without talking about data. We talk constantly about the pros and cons, the dangers and benefits... but do we talk enough about what data actually is?

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Meet jane

Meet Jane

Jane, like most of us, is online all the time.

Even though Jane knows the basics about online advertising, she occasionally sees an ad that seems to know her a little too well.

She has a sense that, somehow, she’s being tracked.

Here is what's happening

A week ago, Jane went to her local Supermarket X and bought a banana.

She paid in cash and used her store loyalty card.

This created an offline data point.

Later in the week, Jane opens the Supermarket X app on her phone and sees recommendations for fresh produce.

Supermarket X knows that Jane bought a banana using her loyalty card, so they make an educated guess that she also enjoys other kinds of produce. This guessing is called inferred data.

In the app, Jane adds her weekly shopping to the cart, and arranges delivery to her home.

Those items that she’s purchased are stored by the app as onsite data.

The app also stores Jane's address for grocery delivery. Her personal address stays private, but parts of this data (like the area code) might get used elsewhere.

Supermarket X uses an ad platform to get Jane's attention online.

Supermarket X creates the ad by inputting its own data. The ad platform now has offsite data about Jane: she buys fresh produce at Supermarket X.

Now, Supermarket X can create customized ads based on the offsite data.

So when Jane is reading the news and sees an ad that’s tailored to her, she’s actually seeing a whole ecosystem of data at work.

Both Supermarket X and ad platforms need to ensure that this data ecosystem is visible and understandable for Jane.

People can control their data more effectively when they understand the ecosystem

How can we provide transparency around the data ecosystem?

How might we instill within our digital services the education that people need?

Fostering a deeper understanding of the data ecosystem is just one in a series of efforts needed in order to ensure that people are truly educated about their data.

With digital services growing in both adoption and complexity, the industry has a collective responsibility to go beyond notifications. Instead, we must strive to embed ongoing education in products and services.

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TTC Labs is a cross-industry effort to create innovative design solutions that put people in control of their privacy.

Initiated and supported by Facebook, and built on collaboration, the movement has grown to include hundreds of organisations, including major global businesses, startups, civic organisations and academic institutions.