Data in Everyday Life


This year we selected the theme “data in everyday life” in part because the impact of data creation, gathering, and use continues to explode and transform how we move through and experience the world. This impact is felt by citizens, professionals, researchers, students, citizen scientists…basically anyone who lives part of their lives in the online environment or carries a mobile device. There is now a multibillion dollar personal data industry that profits from our everyday lives. Personal details about a person’s life are quantified, bundled, and sold for pennies by data brokers. This is possible because important national policy and regulations that would protect our privacy as citizens have not been adopted. On the flip side, technology enables us to easily create, analyze, and share data to improve our lives.


Data pervades our daily lives in many ways. The persistent claims of “fake news” and fake data” are in the news daily and require citizens to educate themselves to determine what is true or false. Cherry-picked data are often used to support claims by all types of media outlets, without consideration of bias. Statistics and numbers about healthcare costs, election polls and voter turnout, or unemployment numbers also proliferate across our news sources. Every citizen needs to be data literate.

Personal data is generated at a near constant deluge from sources such as social media, online retail shopping sites, and cell phone providers. For example, per this article about the “Insane Amount of Data We’re Using Every Minute”, Twitter users send 473,400 tweets every minute and Amazon makes $332,876 per minute in net sales. Facebook is collecting user data and interests from your posts and likes. Health insurance companies are using your personal data to make risk assessments and determine healthcare costs.

While this all sounds scary, data can also be an entertaining and enriching part of life. Participating in citizen science activities such as bird watching and tracking through the iBird app can assist researchers and scientists while you are enjoying a hobby. The quantified self movement has been fueled by the availability and ease of tracking with mobile devices.

Two friends created the Dear Data project to share information about their lives while they lived in different countries. Looking at daily activities through this type of lens allows you to see things in a new way – how many times do you say “thank you” every day? Or how often do you check your phone?

We have decided to explore this theme through two topics that offer rich opportunity to engage many audiences. The first is open data, which generally describes government and research data, rather than personal or consumer data that is bought and sold. Open data presents many possibilities and challenges; these are as diverse as the many contexts in which open data is created and used. Current researchers have greater options in obtaining research data to answer their questions. Members of the public also have greater opportunity to participate in, collaborate on, and experience research through citizen science initiatives. Many citizen science efforts result in open data that can be shared and reused by others. Open government data is another valuable source of information that can be used to improve or develop services, enable small business creation, and contribute to the economy.

The second thread is data justice, which can be defined as “fairness in the way people are made visible, represented and treated as a result of their production of digital data” (Taylor, 2017). Social justice and big data are current buzzwords, but how do these two areas intersect? What do you need to know about how your data is used? Can data be used to effect social change and fight inequality, and if so, how?

Yes, many of these issues are complex. Don’t be discouraged! You can take personal actions to protect your own privacy. Groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) have developed a Surveillance Self-Defense guide that spells out practical steps like creating strong passwords, deleting your data from computers and mobile devices, and protecting yourself on social media. It also helps you to talk about privacy issues with others.

There are many facets of data in everyday life beyond these topics. We encourage you to build on or depart from what we’ve developed to craft an event or conversation that is locally relevant to your institution and communities. If you do, please share those ideas and topics with us! We would love to highlight your local flavor of Love Data Week.

As in previous years, we have gathered some key resources and developed discussion prompts and activities to engage a variety of audiences, including students, researchers, librarians in all settings, community members, citizen scientists, and more. Check out the pages for open data and data justice.

Key Resources


Activity #1: (With students, divide large groups or classes into small groups of 2-3.) Ask them to explore a common public data source from the list below and share the types of information and data they were able to find. How do they feel about it? What concerns do they have? What would they like to change? Would they feel comfortable sharing this information with someone face-to-face? Ask the small groups to report back to the large group.

Activity #2:  (With students, divide large groups or classes into small groups of 2-3.) Choose a social media platform, Google, or Apple and examine what data is stored by that provider. What data is shared with external parties? What options do you have to limit or stop sharing? Ask the small groups to report back to the large group – What was most surprising? What one thing could they do today to protect their data and privacy?

Activity #3: Read and discuss this article: Fake news and the responsibility of data scientists. Do you trust data based facts/findings in news? Do you have experience in figuring out fake news based on data in the news?

Activity #4: (For library workers) With your colleagues, explore the data retention policies and practices in your library. Are these serving the patron? Could they put patrons at risk? When do the benefits of retaining data outweigh the risks?