Funded Projects

Existing research into the privacy experiences of low-socioeconomic status (low-SES) people is limited. The Foundation believes that more research will expand academic and public discourse on privacy and security risks and benefits to include the low-SES perspective. It will also help the field understand whether a differential approach to privacy protections is needed for low-SES people. We funded five research projects to expand the research base on these topics.

All project summaries were written by grantees.

Grantee: Appalachian Center for Resilience Research (PI: Sherry Hamby)
The Digital Online Privacy & Security (Digital OPS) Survey among Low Socioeconomic Status Adults and Adolescents in Rural Appalachia

This project will investigate the online privacy concerns and security practices in rural Appalachia, one of the largest low-income areas of the United States that the New York Times recently deemed among the hardest places to live in the country. In addition to high rates of low-SES individuals and some indicators of financial strain that are more than twice the national average, rural Appalachians also cope with limited wi-fi and cell phone tower access and approximately 1/3 are still infrequent computer users. However, this community also has under-appreciated and under-studied strengths and we will also document security practices and the benefits of access to digital technology. Our research team, led by Dr. Sherry Hamby with Drs. Kimberly Mitchell and Lisa Jones serving as co-investigators, has experience conducting research in this under-served community. We will implement a best-practices, mixed methods approach to developing a comprehensive inventory of online issues relevant to rural low-SES individuals through focus groups, interviews, and a large-scale survey of 500 rural Appalachians. Our team is experienced in addressing online privacy and safety issues, developing measures on sensitive topics, and conducting research with low SES populations. We will disseminate the results to fellow researchers, policymakers, practitioners, and the general public.

Grantee: Data & Society Research Institute (PIs: Solon Baracas & Karen Levy)
Project: Understanding Privacy as a Means of Economic Redistribution

This project investigates how low-SES populations understand and appeal to privacy in order to protect their economic interests in low-wage labor markets. In the low-wage workplace, novel forms of data collection and analysis can operate to entrench inequality and limit workers’ economic power. We consider how the working poor can and do mobilize privacy (conceptually and practically) to shape information flows, in an effort to limit these negative redistributive effects. We use qualitative methodologies to empirically assess these practices in three work contexts: (1) the impacts of agricultural data collection on small farmers; (2) the use of data-intensive scheduling systems for retail management; and (3) the use of low- wage labor to train production-process robotic systems. Our inquiry is not merely whether novel forms of data collection and analysis have distributional effects, but how these effects are experienced and actively contested by the working poor.

Grantee: Data & Society Research Institute (PI: danah boyd)
Project: Reframing Privacy

When policymakers, advocates, educators, and technologists invoke the term privacy in an effort to protect low-status individuals, are they using frames that resonate with those communities? If not, are different groups using different language to describe the same experiences and concerns, or are we talking about different concerns altogether? The goal of this study is to better understand the language and framing of privacy issues by low-SES communities who may not use the terms or the rubrics of mainstream debates. To address this gap in knowledge, we will conduct qualitative research with teenagers and young adults (ages 16-26) in low-SES communities near New York City to understand how they talk about efforts to control information flow, manage social situations, and otherwise engage in protective practices discussed by privacy researchers. This research will produce empirical data about cultural frames and expectations in order to build more effective policies, technologies, and educational interventions.

Grantee: Data & Society Research Institute (PI: Mary Madden)
Project: Survey Research into the Privacy and Security Experiences of Low-SES Populations

This project proposes a robust, nationally representative survey of American adults that includes an oversample of low-SES respondents. As a foundational component of understanding the everyday privacy and security-related behaviors of low-SES adults, the survey will seek to answer key questions that will serve to ground the policy conversations and debates about privacy and security in the digital age. In addition to a publicly available report and dataset, this project proposes to create a competitive “Data Access Grant” for a graduate student working in this space to provide early access to the data before it is published to facilitate dissertation-level work with these findings. This research will provide a detailed and up-to-date snapshot of a population that is currently underrepresented in the study of technology and society. As such, the insights gathered through this empirical work will serve as a catalyst for ongoing research in this field.

Grantee: New America (PIs: Virginia Eubanks, Seeta Peña Gangadharan, Joseph Turow)
Project: Between Resignation and Resilience: Digital Privacy and Data Flows in Vulnerable Neighborhoods

This three-year, mixed method, participatory research project explores the nature and experience of digital privacy and “data rights” of adult low-income people in the United States. A team of grassroots organizations—The Center for Community Transitions (Charlotte, North Carolina), Allied Media Projects (Detroit, Michigan), and Los Angeles Community Action Network/Stop LAPD Spying (Los Angeles, California)—will collaborate with principal investigators Virginia Eubanks, Seeta Peña Gangadharan and Joseph Turow to conduct qualitative, participatory action research in three cities and a nationally representative survey. Both portions of the study focus on poor and working-class people’s understandings of their right and ability to control their personal data across a number of domains: public assistance, housing, employment, education, land use, and criminal justice. The research will result in range of deliverables for academics, policymakers, and community members, including a Popular Guide to Data and Discrimination and a workbook of popular education activities for use in community organizing, training and literacy efforts. The project will benefit not only those most affected by “differential privacy,” but will also serve to broaden national conversation on big data, surveillance and economic inequality.