A workshop: Helping people to manage their digital identities

I have recently started work on a new research project, titled DISIPRAC: Digital identity security information practices of citizens. The project scope is to investigate the security information practices associated with digital identity, in particular, the sharing of log-in details and to develop the concept of “social proxies” for managing digital identities.

Over the last decade, most levels of government have been implementing a policy often called “digital by default” or “digital-first” in the name of efficiency and cost savings to prioritise online services such as Universal Credit and myaccount. At the same time, the security of online systems has been increasing, making it more challenging for everyone to actually accessing the services they need. This is bound to impact the information practices of many users. One result might be the temptation to avoid the use of some online systems altogether, but this is often not a practical option.  Another could be individuals using risky behaviours with their digital identity, such as sharing passwords, with obvious implications for data protection and privacy.

Some system designers and system owners/managers are aware of the potential impact of this change and are starting to accommodate some users through “assisted digital” services, “alternative journeys” and models of guardianship or delegated identity. However, it is unclear if these capture the range of informal support that happens around social proxy practices and behaviours.

This is where DISIPRAC come in. This work will be undertaken with Peter Cruickshank, my colleague in the Centre for Social Informatics, and has been funded by a research development grant at Edinburgh Napier University. Peter is the PI on the project (and my former PhD supervisor). He brings more than 10 years’ experience in researching how citizens adopt and learn how to use internet technologies for participation in democratic processes and to engage with government services online. This is complemented by my own research in information behaviour and practices related to online information sharing and use, including my PhD work and my involvement in another Napier project, Social media by proxy: Strategies for managing the online profiles of adults with dementia, and my work at the University of Dundee, TAPESTRY: Trust, Authentication and Privacy over a DeCentralised Social Registry.

At this time, we are conducting a literature review and beginning to plan for a workshop in February that will be used as our primary source of research data. The workshop will be for professionals, citizen support and advocacy groups, and other similar stakeholders. Its aim will be to understand the issues they face when supporting (potentially vulnerable) citizens to better cope with increased levels of security for government systems that are increasingly integral to their every-day lives. We will do this by working through a set of pre-defined scenarios over the course of the day, based around access to services provided by UK, Scottish and local governments.

How can you help? Send us your (anonymised) stories now!
We are compiling a selection of stories and examples for how people support others in relation to their online identities. If you have a story to share, please send them my way. All stories will be anonymised.

Ultimately, this project will address the gaps in current research related to users’ real-world information practices around their digital identity, particularly by citizens and customers in a non-discretionary context.

We are very excited to have a chance to find out more about this highly topical area. We will learn more about the relationship between identity (who we are) and digital identity (how IT systems recognise us), and we recognise that information practitioners in libraries and voluntary organisations are at the front line of the change in public services. This project is a great opportunity to make contacts and hear stories – and hopefully provide the basis for a larger future project.

Stay tuned for more information about the workshop, including how you can get involved. And, as always, please contact me if you have any questions!

[Note: Image by Michael Morrow, sourced on Flickr and used under Creative Commons License.]

Read my thesis!

My PhD thesis, “Reputation management in a digital world: The role of online information in the building, management, and evaluation of personal reputations”, is now available on the Edinburgh Napier University repository.

This work was completed at Edinburgh Napier University under the supervision of Professor Hazel HallAlistair Lawson, and Peter Cruickshank. You can read the full abstract below and you can find research outputs from this work on the publications page of this website.

Download a PDF of the document here:
https://www.napier.ac.uk/research-and-innovation/research-search/outputs/reputation-management-in-a-digital-world-the-role-of-online-information-in-the-building

Please get in touch if you have any questions about my thesis or my current research.

Citation:
Ryan, F. V. C. (2019). Reputation management in a digital world: The role of online information in the building, management, and evaluation of personal reputations. (Doctoral thesis). Edinburgh Napier University. Retrieved from http://researchrepository.napier.ac.uk/Output/2090098

Abstract:

This work is concerned with the role of online information in the building, management, and evaluation of personal reputations. The main contributions of the research relate to: (1) the means by which people evaluate the personal reputations of others from the online evidence available to them, and (2) strategies for the building and management of personal reputations through the use of online information. The findings extend knowledge within the domain of Information Science, notably with respect to the established body of research on human information behaviour and use. They are set against a theoretical framework that is anchored to research in bibliometrics (for example on citation practice and citation analysis), and takes into account the multidisciplinary nature of the field of Information Science.

A multi-step data collection process was implemented following the practice of extant studies in Information Science and human information behaviour and use. This focused on a sample of forty-five UK-based social media users. A qualitative analysis of data collected from participant diaries and interviews was undertaken using NVivo10.

The main contribution of this work with respect to the evaluation of personal reputations on the basis on online evidence is that the information available is largely consumed and evaluated in a passive manner: social media users are more interested in the content of the information that is shared on social media platforms than they are in the signals that this information might convey about the sharer(s). Closer attention is paid in cases where the information shared is in stark contrast to the opinions and practices of those who consume it. In terms of the management of personal reputations through the use of online information, this work introduces and develops new concepts related to managing the “blur” that occurs at the intersection between private and professional lives, and online and offline environments.

The doctor is in: Frances Ryan, PhD

It has been a long time coming, but I am finally a doctor. Oh yes, I am now officially Dr Frances Ryan. The PhD kind of doctor, not the medical kind – just so that there is no doubt.

When I say “a long time coming”, I mean that my PhD Dreams began with my undergraduate degree way, way, way back in 1999. At the time, I had hoped to move directly from my undergraduate work at Central Washington University into a master’s degree followed, hopefully, by a PhD. But after meeting a cute boy during my undergraduate year abroad, I put my postgraduate dreams on hold so that I could get married and do all that lovey-dovey family stuff. (No regrets!)

Later, with the full support and encouragement of my husband, Paul, the plan changed to doing part-time postgraduate studies whilst we raised our family (we were getting ready to adopt from the foster care system). But my beloved Paul died before I was meant to begin my studies, and so I put my dreams on hold so that I could relearn how to breathe. (No, really. When you become a widow, you can forget how to do simple things like breathe, eat, sleep, laugh, and even hope…)

But, eventually, I managed to find the strength to return to school for a master’s degree. And at some point during that degree path, my PhD Dreams were renewed. I was privileged to be offered three different PhD placements and I happily accepted the one at Edinburgh Napier University.

My PhD studies began in November 2013 under the supervision of Professor Hazel Hall (director of studies), Alistair Lawson (second supervisor), and Peter Cruickshank (third supervisor). Whilst the “ideal” PhD journey is about three years, my journey took a bit longer than that. Which isn’t uncommon, but I am a bit disappointed at myself for not finishing sooner. (Some of the delays were out of my control, but I have to acknowledge that some were down to me and my self-confidence – or lack thereof.)

In the end, I submitted my thesis on Halloween (2018) just shy of five years after beginning my studies and my (slightly delayed) viva took place in February 2019. I was quite keen to complete my minor corrections in time for the summer graduations, so handed in my corrections a tad bit early (so not everything about my PhD was delayed). After all, graduating on the 4th of July is a pretty cool thing for an American – especially one who is the daughter of two United States Marines!

And so, finally, here I am: Frances Ryan, PhD. Or Dr Ryan, if you prefer.

Of course, this dream could never have been realised without the encouragement and support of others. So, thank you to all of my family and friends in America, the UK, and in the virtual world for helping to see me through this crazy adventure!

I am not certain where life will take me next. Ideally, I will be able to remain in Scotland working as an academic for the foreseeable future. But I am a realist (begrudgingly so) and I know that I will have to be open to opportunities wherever they might be. (If you know of a job opportunity I should consider, please get in touch!)

And now that I have accomplished this great dream of mine, I suppose I should start thinking about the Next Big Thing. After all, having a big goal to focus on is what keeps me going!

You can watch the ceremony on YouTube below. I enter the stage about 6 minutes in, so no need to watch the entire 90-minute show!

My new post-doc at Dundee

I started a new job last week and I am quite excited about it. The job is a short-term contract as a post-doctoral research fellow at the University of Dundee (through November). During this time, I will be working with Professor Wendy Moncur on an EPRSC-funded research project, TAPESTRY: Trust, Authentication and Privacy over a DeCentralised Social Registry.

The TAPESTRY team is studying the socio-digital design of trusted services, and developing novel blockchain and machine learning solutions for identity assurance. It is a collaborative project between the University of Surrey’s Centre for Vision Speech and Signal Processing (project lead) and Centre for Cyber Security, the Department of Media Communication and Design at the University of Northumbria Newcastle, and the Duncan Jordanston College of Art and Design at the University of Dundee (that’s where I am).

The aim of the project is to investigate, develop, and demonstrate new ways to enable people, businesses and services to connect safely online, exploiting the complex “tapestry” of multi-modal signals woven by their everyday digital interactions. Through this project, the team will develop a de-centralised registry that stores trails of users’ digital activity, enabling users to share portions of it to prove they are trustworthy – without giving away so much information that it violates their privacy. By doing this, the work will de-risk the Digital Economy, delivering completely new ways of determining or engendering trust online, and enabling users and businesses to make better decisions about who they trust online.

Now, if you’re wondering how I managed to land a job on such a techy project, it’s simple: Sometimes the technical side of life needs a bit of the human side of life to help weave things together. (weave, tapestry… get it?)

To that, my role on the project is to run two qualitative studies looking at different aspects of determining trust in online environments. I am just starting to get my head around the details of what I’ll be doing, so I won’t get into the details here just yet. However, I will share more about this work as time goes on.

This will be my first time contributing to a large-scale study of this kind, which will be a learning experience in its own right. I will also be balancing this role along with my post-doctoral work on my “social media proxies” project, as well as completing my thesis edits. So, I expect it to be a fairly chaotic few months. But chaotic in a good way (I hope!)

Wish me luck!

Building identity online at #ASIST2017: A poster presentation

I am leaving for Washington, DC tomorrow morning to attend the 80th Annual Meeting of the Association for Information Science and Technology (ASIST), where I will be presenting some of my research in the form of an academic poster. The presentation will be held during the President’s Reception on 30th October (6.30-8.00 pm) at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City (Independence Level, Center A).

The poster is titled “Building identity in online environments: an Information Science perspective” and was co-authored with my PhD supervisorsPeter CruickshankProfessor Hazel Hall, and Alistair Lawson. The research draws from some of the findings from my doctoral investigation on the use of online information in the management of personal reputation. Specifically, this work concerns an aspect of information behaviour and use related to the creation of online identity, which is addressed in one of my four research questions: How do individuals use information to build identities for themselves online?

This qualitative study used participant diaries and in-depth, semi-structured interviews as data collection tools. It involved 45 UK-based participants, and data collection took place between October 2015 and January 2016.

The content of the poster shares findings related to three areas of identity building. These are:

  • The creation and use of online “personas” and identities
  • The use of anonymity and pseudonyms through information sharing – or concealment – practices
  • The ways in which private and professional selves blur or merge together in online environments

The main finding presented in this work is that individuals present elements of their offline lives using online information to showcase different “personas”. However, they do not do this with the intention of building identity. The findings explored in this presentation are contextualised with reference to identity building in the more formal setting of academic reputation management, i.e. through the use of citations.

Please stop by the poster session to learn more about this research and my doctoral studies as a whole. You can also find me during the coffee breaks or other social activities.

Not in attendance? Don’t worry! As part of my “professional persona” I like to share information online. The links below will allow you to engage with my presentation from afar!

⇒  Poster download (low-res for online viewing)

⇒  Poster handout with further information

⇒  Full abstract from Edinburgh Napier University’s repository

If you have any questions about this research or the doctoral study as a whole, please contact me.

If you wish to interact in real-time, you can ask me questions on Twitter (@FrancesRyanPhD) or follow along with the conference using the hashtag #ASIST2017.