Digital lights

What is a data double?

Each of us has a “data double,” a digital duplicate of our lives captured in data and spread across assemblages of information systems.

Our research is informed by the work of Kevin D. Haggerty and Richard V. Ericson, whose 2000 article, “The surveillant assemblage,” lays out the implications of then-emerging database technologies and information practices to identity and autonomy.1 They write:

[W]e are witnessing a convergence of what were once discrete surveillance systems to the point that we can now speak of an emerging ‘surveillant assemblage’. This assemblage operates by abstracting human bodies from their territorial settings and separating them into a series of discrete 􏰝flows. These 􏰝flows are then reassembled into distinct ‘data doubles’ which can be scrutinized and targeted for intervention.

Naturally, the array of flows that support the surveillant assemblage are many. As we interact with websites, applications, and—increasingly—sensors, it is difficult to track down what about our lives are captured in these flows and what ends they serve. Yet, these flows and the data doubles they ultimately inform are a critical part of modern life. The services we receive, the discounts we get, and the opportunities that we are provided (or shut out from) are increasingly determined by the data defining our doubles and the algorithms in which they are analyzed.

Where higher education students are concerned, it is no longer appropriate to think of student information as something that is contained in a traditional academic record. Now, student life, in and out of the classroom, is subject to data capture, mining, and analysis using learning analytics applications and methods. Using nudging techniques and predictive statistics, a student’s data double becomes the subject of critical analysis that increasingly influences admissions decisions, financial aid packages, motivational messages, strategic advising, and more.

  1. Haggerty, K. D., & Ericson, R. V. (2000). The surveillant assemblage. British Journal of Sociology, 51(4), 605–622. doi: 10.1080/00071310020015280