Tips for leveraging User Generated Data and five ethical issues to watch

While debates about the ethics of User Generated Content (UGC) roll on, it’s time to focus on the next big challenge: leveraging User Generated Data. UGD is an idea being explored by Fergus Bell. In this guest post, he outlines his tips for editors keen to do more with audience data, and highlights the early emerging ethical challenges.

by WAN-IFRA Staff | April 14, 2015

Four tips for leveraging User Generated Data

1. Timely delivery

Why ask a user to set a specific time each day for content to be delivered? Instead what about using their own data to either predict the time they would need it, or push it when they perform a certain action? Example: when they pick up their phone first thing in the morning.

2. Relevant delivery

On a train, before boarding a plane… our devices know where we are. They also know what kind of movement we are making. If the GPS can determine when a reader is on a train, then what about delivering something to them when they have the time to read it? Just been for that run? Well you aren’t going to push content to them while they are working out, but what about some health and fitness content later that day?

3. Breaking news

A breaking news event is happening, right now. “Did you witness the event, if so we would love to hear from you. Please send your photos to us at…” Their instincts will likely mean they have shared their photos and video to social media already, so what about telling a different kind of story? If an audience lets us in, then we know they were there. We also know if an explosion woke them up in the night, because let’s face it, who won’t check their phone?

4. Assessing trends

How bad is the commute in that city? And how does it compare to others? What routes do people take? How many of our readers headed to the beach on that first sunny day of the year? And if we dare…how many of our audience (who actually own one) are still using their Apple Watch? How many times a day might they be checking it?



Five ethical considerations when dealing with UGD

1. Who wins?

Are both the audience and the journalists or news organisations mutually benefiting from this arrangement? Is the value of the story that the data tells worth the sacrifice of personal information being shared?

2. When is it on?

The people designing the process that collects data from people’s devices must ensure that those users know what is being collected and when that is happening. Clarity on how each piece of data is going to be used is also essential so our own audiences can see the results of the information they elect to share. This will allow them to choose whether to do so again.

3. Protection and trust

Anyone sharing this potentially valuable commodity with us needs to how and when their data will be used at all times. Being allowed to access this data will put us under pressure to use it in other ways. But however tempting it might be, we must always stick to the parameters we initially set out for the user. Policies on when and how to anonymize datasets will need to be established well in advance in order to inform audiences before they choose whether to opt-in.

4. Being representative

Data journalism isn’t a new concept anymore and there are clear guidelines developed by most newsrooms that govern the way data is used in an editorial context. Yes, this kind of data would be immediate and new, but how do we ensure that our samples are still representative? And how do we ensure that trends are accurate?

5. Safety

Is anyone put in danger by you asking them to share this data? Or by the way you are choosing to publish it?

Note: Fergus Bell will speak about audience engagement at the World News Media Congress in Washington DC this June

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