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Data for Development: the implications of new types of digital data for international development


The current exponential increase in the use of digital communication technologies in low and middle income countries has the potential to make their citizens a rich mine of information about health interventions, human mobility, conflict and violence, technology adoption, communication dynamics and financial behaviour. However, the default mode is currently for this to happen without their informed consent or involvement, and without ethical and normative frameworks to ensure data protection or to weigh the risks against the benefits. This proposed research will explore the implications of ‘data for development' – the use of new types of digital data, for example from mobile phone traces or social media activity, to shape development interventions by governments and international institutions. The research is specifically concerned with how the availability of such data is drawing new actors and institutions into the field of international development; how development organisations are dealing with the ethics of privacy and data protection in this context, and how the potential benefits of knowing more about developing-country populations are being weighed against the risks of being able to track and identify individuals and groups. The research will take an ethnographic perspective focusing on three groups: the individuals producing the data, the organisations and institutions using it, and the policymakers and technology firms dealing with the technical and regulatory aspects of data production and storage. Through three case studies it will look at such issues as the framing of privacy in a developing-country context; models for participatory consent on the part of users; location-specific aspects of technology design and architectures, and the theoretical debates emerging around 'data for development' as a new facet of technology in the international development sphere.

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Spui 21
1012WX Amsterdam
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
EU contribution
€ 175 974,60
Administrative Contact
Jose Komen (Mrs.)