TiP Talk by Alison Cool: Sympathy for the data – law, ethics, and the imagined data subject

TiP is happy to present a new series of talks, “TiP Talks”, where visitors from abroad have been invited to ITU to share their research with us.

The first visitor is Alison Cool who will visit us from University of Colorado cool_alison-07_0Boulder. She is a cultural anthropologist with research interests in digital technologies, data ethics, and how people think about privacy and surveillance. She conducts ethnographic fieldwork in Sweden exploring how experts, professionals, and activists go about the ethical and pragmatic work of protecting and sharing personal data.

Details of the talk

Date & Time: October 12th, 12.00-14.00

Location: 5A60 at the ITU

Sympathy for the data: law, ethics, and the imagined data subject

Abstract: Why do researchers keep data and why do they give it away? Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork in Sweden, I describe how researchers form affective attachments to the data they work with. Different forms of attachment to data foster a range of ethical sensibilities among researchers and endow research data with divergent and sometimes contradictory values. In this paper, I explore the elusive figure of the data subject, as imagined by researchers. In various instantiations as “real people behind the data,” a Swedish national population, or a transnational public, imagined data subjects were ascribed intentions and desires—signifiers of personhood that compelled researchers to respond. If legal efforts to standardize data protection practices (notably the GDPR) might seem antithetical to these imaginative approaches to data ethics, I argue that the legal principle of accountability implies a similarly relational view of ethics by suggesting the existence of an unknown other to whom one owes an account.