Toronto Metropolitan University
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Bought and Sold: Exploring the Effects of Big Data on User Agency and Commodification

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posted on 2021-05-23, 18:41 authored by Kristia M. Pavlakos
Big Data1is a phenomenon that has been increasingly studied in the academy in recent years, especially in technological and scientific contexts. However, it is still a relatively new field of academic study; because it has been previously considered in mainly technological contexts, more attention needs to be drawn to the contributions made in Big Data scholarship in the social sciences by scholars like Omar Tene and Jules Polonetsky, Bart Custers, Kate Crawford, Nick Couldry, and Jose van Dijk. The purpose of this Major Research Paper is to gain insight into the issues surrounding privacy and user rights, roles, and commodification in relation to Big Data in a social sciences context. The term “Big Data” describes the collection, aggregation, and analysis of large data sets. While corporations are usually responsible for the analysis and dissemination of the data, most of this data is user generated, and there must be considerations regarding the user’s rights and roles. In this paper, I raise three main issues that shape the discussion: how users can be more active agents in data ownership, how consent measures can be made to actively reflect user interests instead of focusing on benefitting corporations, and how user agency can be preserved. Through an analysis of social sciences scholarly literature on Big Data, privacy, and user commodification, I wish to determine how these concepts are being discussed, where there have been advancements in privacy regulation and the prevention of user commodification, and where there is a need to improve these measures. In doing this, I hope to discover a way to better facilitate the relationship between data collectors and analysts, and user-generators. 1 While there is no definitive resolution as to whether or not to capitalize the term “Big Data”, in capitalizing it I chose to conform with such authors as boyd and Crawford (2012), Couldry and Turow (2014), and Dalton and Thatcher (2015), who do so in the scholarly literature.





  • Master of Professional Communication


  • Professional Communication

Granting Institution

Ryerson University

LAC Thesis Type

  • MRP