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Modern technological applications collect an unprecedented volume of data on their users. Studies on users’ attitude towards large-scale data collections have focused primarily on the privacy issues brought forth by such applications. Operationally, the mechanism of collecting and monetizing user data involves a complex set of steps hidden from the end users. Given this fact, it is important to explore the users’ place, specifically the role of engineering students, as consumers as well as creators. This work considered students’ role in this system not just as tech consumers with privacy concerns, but as participants in a data economy, where they provide their personal data, and/or use their technological expertise to build and maintain such systems.
This paper presents results of a survey focused on understanding college students’ perceptions of the data economy in the US. Subjects include 113 students from a technical university in the US (mostly computer science undergraduates) enrolled in a web development course. Two years of sampling indicates that most students have trepidations around data being collected, and have differential concerns about various kinds of personal data. For example, they are less concerned about educational data compared to their personal finance data. Students’ responses exhibited limited understanding of laws and technical processes that govern and facilitate data collection and use. However, they showed a nuanced understanding of the advantages and disadvantages of a data economy (e.g., most students pointed out pros such as availability of free products and services with cons such as biases in algorithms and loss of privacy). Surprisingly, despite the pandemic moving most students online between year one and year two of the sampling, little variation was observed from year to year.
Potential implications of these, and other, results and next steps for scaling the survey are highlighted. While this preliminary study is limited to one US university, it indicates the need to include topics related to data economy in the engineering curriculum. While the curriculum focuses on building their expertise in technology, it appears crucial to empower students with the knowledge of their broader role in the society as they are building technical systems.
Roy, A., & Kessler, A. (2022, August), How College Students Feel about Data Privacy and the Data Economy Paper presented at 2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Minneapolis, MN. https://peer.asee.org/40786
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