Approaching Public Perceptions of Datafication Through the Lens of Inequality: A Case Study in Public Service Media

Helen Kennedy*, Robin Steedman, Rhianne Jones

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


In the emerging field of critical data studies, there is increasing acknowledgement that the negative effects of datafication are not experienced equally by all. Research on data and discrimination in particular has highlighted how already socially unequal populations are discriminated against in data-driven systems. Elsewhere, there is growing interest in public perceptions of datafication, amongst academic researchers interested in producing ‘bottom up’ understandings of the new roles of data in society and non-academic stakeholders keen to establish positive perceptions of data-driven systems. However, research into public perceptions rarely engages with the issue of inequality which is so central in data and discrimination scholarship. Bringing these two issues together, this paper explores public perceptions of datafication through the lens of inequality, focusing on the relationship between understandings and feelings within these perceptions. The paper draws on empirical focus group research into how audiences perceive the data practices that signing in to access BBC digital services enable. The paper shows how inequalities relating to age, dis/ability, poverty and their intersections played a role in shaping perceptions and that these social inequalities informed understandings of and feelings about data practices in complex and diverse ways. It concludes with reflections on the significance of these findings for future research and for data-related policy.
Original languageEnglish
JournalInformation, Communication & Society
Issue number12
Pages (from-to)1745-1761
Number of pages17
Publication statusPublished - 2021
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Published online: 4. March 2020


  • Public perception
  • Data practices
  • Datafication
  • Inequality
  • Understanding
  • Feelings

Cite this