Coventry University-led project recruits citizen scientists to help internet data tracking

Thursday 07 April 2022

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Coventry University is leading a team of international researchers on a new initiative to understand how websites and apps collect and track user data – and are recruiting participants from all over the world to help.

‘Citizen Scientists Investigating Cookies and App GDPR compliance’ (CSI-COP), is an EU-funded project led by the university’s Centre for Computational Science and Mathematical Modelling (CSM) and the Centre for Post Digital Cultures.

The project investigates what data websites and apps are automatically collecting when a user visits a web page or uses an app.

Many websites and apps use forms of tracking, including ‘cookies’ to analyse a user’s journey across the internet.  A website or app could monitor visitor behaviour such as the time spent browsing, and where the visitor goes to next.

Dr Huma Shah, Assistant Professor at CSM, who is leading the project alongside Professor Neil Forbes, Director of Creative Cultures, said:

The collected user data is incredibly valuable and is often shared between third parties, including data brokers, and sometimes sold to advertisers who target users with related products and services based on previous browsing activities.

Dr Huma Shah, Assistant Professor at the Centre for Computational Science and Mathematical Modelling

CSI-COP has been recruiting members of the public to join the project as ‘citizen scientists’ to support further investigation into compliance of cookie notices and privacy policies on websites and in apps with data protection rights.

Informal education and practical training are available for free to members of the public. This opportunity is offered through a free half day course, ‘Your Right to Privacy Online’ available in twelve languages from CSI-COP’s website.

Dr Shah added:

Internet users have very little knowledge of how their data is collected and sold on.

Different websites use various strategies to get people to agree to cookies or make it difficult to opt-out, which is against GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation). 

What the CSI-COP project aims to do is not only raise awareness of online privacy, but to generate a free searchable online repository of citizen science investigations uncovering tracking technologies in websites and in apps.

The CSI-COP project is a huge undertaking, but we believe it is so important for us to understand exactly how websites and apps are tracking our data so we can find better ways to challenge it and promote privacy.

Find out more about CSI-COP's course 'Your Right to Privacy Online'

Woman's hands accessing digital tablet with data symbols

CSI-COP's informal education workshop

Register for CSI-COP's free half day workshop on 12 April, taking place at Coventry Main City Library.