Personal Data Research at UWE

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By Glenn Parry 


The HAT-related research Dr Alex Kharlamov and I have been doing at the University of the West of England (UWE), in partnership with colleagues at other institutions, has been focused on personal data.

The first major piece is related to how personal data in the home might help inform business models. IoT (Internet of Things) provides an opportunity for firms to gather direct data from the home on how people use their products and services. We analysed what resources are in the home and created four categories of associated ways they can be measured which we named use visibility measures: depletion measures, consumption measures, experience measures and interaction measures. So, if we consider a tin of beans, it is a depletion resource with a very long shelf life. The home owner may have several tins in their cupboard. The supplier currently has no visibility of the number of tins in storage or the rate and time of consumption. With the power of the IoT, it would be possible to track this and replenish in a smart way such that when a tin is consumed another is automatically delivered. This changes the business model for the retailer and the nature of the resource moves from depletion to consumption. It also offers possibilities for more sustainable supply.

IoT data may also allow us to see how a resource is used. For example, does the homeowner microwave or stove heat the beans, how are they used in combination with other foods, what times of day are they consumed and by whom? Such detailed data reveals opportunity to create new offers and for the provider to engage in dialogue with the homeowner to improve their experience. However, data sharing at this level raises concerns about privacy and vulnerability. Our current research is addressing this important issue.

We started researching in the domain of medical data, as we perceive this as the most sensitive data and the principles of privacy and confidentiality are paramount in this domain. With medical data, we have found that people do evaluate the risk and benefit of sharing. We have also discovered that the majority of patients share medical data. Some of the possible interpretations of this finding is that individuals neglect the potential risk or over-estimate the potential benefit. Another possible interpretation is that patients do not fully understand the implications of sharing. There is more work to be done here.

In a different study, we focused on assessing perceived individual vulnerability towards sharing personal data. We found that individuals tend to be generally risk-taking, and do not feel vulnerable with regards to data such as their identity data, email address, affiliation, etc. Identity data can be used to masquerade as someone else and causes one of the most common and eminent threats today. In contrast, people tend to be primarily risk-averse, and feel vulnerable if sharing information of national security value or information threatening business survival. We find that people overestimate the likelihood of rare types of data loss and underestimate of the most common and most likely types of data loss when it comes to data relating to their finances (credit card or bank account details) or account access (passwords to different websites, or social media).

Our latest work seeks to measure individual risk-taking and risk perception for data. One finding is that risk-taking associated with information privacy is related to the ethical risk position of the individual. Institutions tend to judge and model data loss from a financial point of view. The finding shows a contrasts with consumers who do not view information privacy from a financial point of view, but rather from an ethical standpoint. The work suggests modelling risk associated with consumer data loss purely on financial terms is wrong and models needs to factor in the ethical judgements of the consumer in the case of data breach.

A Co-Investigator on the HAT Project, Glenn Parry is Professor in Strategy and Operations Management with Bristol Business School, University of the West of England

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