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From Shadow Profiles to Contact Tracing: Qualitative Research into Consent and Privacy


For many privacy scholars, consent is on life support, if not dead. In July 2020, we held six focus groups in Australia to test this claim by gauging attitudes to consent and privacy, with a spotlight on smartphones. These focus groups included discussion of four case studies: ‘shadow profiles’, eavesdropping by companies on smartphone users, non-consensual government surveillance of its citizens and contact tracing apps developed to combat COVID-19. Our participants expressed concerns about these practices and said they valued individual consent and saw it as a key element of privacy protection. However, they saw the limits of individual consent, saying that the law and the design of digital services also have key roles to play. Building on these findings, we argue for a blend of good law, good design and an appreciation that individual consent is still valued and must be fixed rather than discarded - ideally in ways that are also collective. In other words, consent is dead; long live consent.

Published: 2021-11-08
Pages:46 to 60
Section: Articles
How to Cite
Molitorisz, Sacha, James Meese, and Jennifer Hagedorn. 2021. “From Shadow Profiles to Contact Tracing: Qualitative Research into Consent and Privacy”. Law, Technology and Humans 3 (2):46-60.

Author Biographies

Centre for Media Transition, University of Technology Sydney
Australia Australia

Sacha Molitorisz is a Lecturer at the Centre for Media Transition at UTS, employed jointly by the Law Faculty and the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. In May 2020, his book Net Privacy, How we can be free in an age of surveillance was published by New South Press (Australia) and McGill-Queens University Press (Canada). He has co-authored commissioned reports for bodies including the ACCC and ACMA, and his academic work has been published in leading journals such as Media International Australia and Journalism, as well as in The Conversation. Sacha is also the convenor / lecturer of the Global Media course at NYU Sydney. Previously, he spent nearly 20 years on staff at the Sydney Morning Herald and as a writer, editor and blogger. 

James Meese is a Senior Lecturer at RMIT University. He holds an early career research fellowship from the Australian Research Council and is currently co-editing an edited collection with Sara Bannerman on the algorithmic distribution of news. His research interests include media and telecommunications policy, artificial intelligence and intellectual property. James has also received research funding from the International Association of Privacy Professionals and the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network. His two books are Authors, Users, Pirates: Subjectivity and Copyright Law (MIT Press) and Death and Digital Media (Routledge, co-authored) and he has published work in a variety of leading journals.

University of Technology Sydney
Australia Australia

Jennifer Hagedorn is a Design and Digital Ethnography Researcher based in Sydney, Australia. Her research explores everyday interactions with, and through, networked digital technologies. Her primary research interest lies in ethnography of digitally networked practices, and specifically the interpretation and analysis of visual cultures on social media.

Open Access Journal
ISSN 2652-4074