Cardiff University researchers launch “data justice” study

Technology researchers at Cardiff University are exploring the fairness of tools that are used to access the digital footprints of minority groups.

Led by Dr Lina Dencik at the university’s school of journalism, the project will focus on how technology is used to analyse refugees, ethnic minorities and low paid workers.

Named “Data Justice: Understanding datafication in relation to social justice”, the study will consider whether systems that gather and access data about these individuals are having a “disparate impact”.

The academics have received a €1.4m Starting Grant from the European Research Council, which will allow them to investigate the effects of datafication within certain communities.

According to the researchers, this is “a process by which data is collected and used to create digital profiles of individuals”. They said it is “entrenched in every area of modern living”.

Dr Dencik and her team will aim to provide a better insight into this practice and how vast amounts of data are being used in the UK as well as Europe.

She explained that the study will “assess how data is collected, what tools are being employed to assess the information and the outcome of any resulting decisions”.

“Our lives are now intrinsically linked to big data systems. These invisible and powerful processes are increasingly being used to make judgments on complex social and economic issues,” she said.

“For example, when a refugee enters a country, the data a government has about them will influence what sort of services they will receive.”

Not only will the team publish an academic report, but they’ll also publish articles on methodological innovations in studying datafication and work with public organisations.

Denick added: “In law enforcement, police could use various information sources, such as social media, to predict whether or not someone will commit a crime.

“For employees, data frequently helps to assess someone’s performance at work, which means people are scheduled or fired based on these statistics.

“Despite the impact big data is having across all sections of society, we are only beginning to understand how these algorithms might introduce or entrench social and economic inequalities in the UK and Europe. Our work will shine a light on this hugely important issue.”