“They Know Everything”: Folk Theories, Thoughts, and Feelings About Dataveillance in Media Technologies

Dong Zhang, Sophie C. Boerman, Hanneke Hendriks, Margot J. van der Goot, Theo Araujo, Hilde Voorveld


Dataveillance refers to the automated, continuous, and unspecific collection, storage, and processing of digital traces. This study explores individuals’ perspectives on dataveillance in media technologies by investigating their folk theories, thoughts, and feelings. Through in-depth interviews with participants aged 18 to 86 years, we identified 3 prominent folk theories, which illustrated how individuals make sense of corporate, technology, and state dataveillance. Thoughts and feelings about dataveillance were mixed: Participants perceived a power imbalance, had concerns over unethical practices and their privacy, and found dataveillance violating and creepy; meanwhile, they recognized that dataveillance improved user experiences, brought benefits beyond the realm of technology, and was “smart.” More importantly, we identified 4 cognitive coping strategies people used to rationalize their technology use under dataveillance: Resigning, self-empowering, downplaying, and sympathizing. These findings offer insights into individuals’ beliefs about and responses to dataveillance, providing important implications for policy makers and media literacy programs.


dataveillance, surveillance, folk theory, thought, feeling, coping strategy

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