What is data donation?

Data donation is a method for data collection. It allows a researcher to collect digital trace data, by asking their participants to request and share their Data Download Packages (DDPs).

Watch the video below to understand what data donation is

Why use data donation?

In our everyday lives, we leave more and more digital traces behind. Whether we like a post on Instagram, or send a message on WhatsApp. Even when we check-in at a public transportation, or when we do a bank transaction, we leave behind a digital trace. The promise of digital humanities and computational social science has been that researchers can utilize these digital traces to study human behavior and interaction at an unprecendented level of detail.

However, while the amount of digital trace data increases, most are closed off in proprietary archives of commercial corporations, with only a subset being available to a small set of elite researchers at a platform’s discretion, through initiatives such as Social Science One, or through increasingly restricted and opaque APIs.

An alternative approach to gain access to digital traces is enabled thanks to the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) right to data access and data portability. Thanks to this legislation, all data processing entities are required to provide citizens a digital copy of their personal data upon request, which typically come in the form of .zip files to which we refer as Data Download Packages (DDPs).

How does data donation work?

Watch this video below to learn how data donation works

Data donation allows researchers to invite participants to share their DDPs. A major challenge is however that DDPs potentially contain very sensitive data, and often not all data is needed to answer the specific research question under investigation. To circumvent these challenges, an alternative framework has been developed: First, the research participant requests their personal DDP at the platform of interest. Second, they download it onto their own personal device. Third, by means of local processing, only the features of interest to the researcher are extracted from that DDP. Fourth, the participant inspects the extracted features after which they can consent (or decline) to donate. Only after providing this consent, the donated data is sent to a server which can be accessed by the researcher for further analyses.

Figure 1: An overview of the data donation workflow

To allow for the local processing step to take place, we developed the software Port. Port is open-source and allows for researchers to fully configure their own data donation study. It creates a website that guides participants through the data donation steps. Researchers can tailor this website to their own DDPs of interest and process these in their desired ways.

If you plan to conduct a data donation study for the first time, please see the page prepare a study for our tips and tricks.