My Entire Life is Online: Informed Consent, Big Data, and Decolonial Knowledge

Anne O'Connell


Research protocols require that informed consent is secured before a project is underway. In the collision of online and offline worlds, researchers continue to offer research participants forms of confidentiality and privacy that no longer exist. The explosion of big data and digital information has transpired with little attention to ethical considerations of consent, privacy, and confidentiality central to research ethics, as these online practices enter the terrain once the preserve of scholars. In this paper, I am concerned with the ethical, epistemological, and political implications of the reorganization of knowledge production in the age of new technologies, big data, and “informational capitalism” (Coll, 2014). Critical debates about research ethics must be harnessed to challenge the rigid, individualistic, and corporate view of consent and privacy now being fashioned by privacy experts. In particular, decolonial and Indigenous research protocols developed in response to settler colonialism exposes the dangers and possibilities of what lies ahead. As a new biopolitical force, check-box consent has become a form of conduct that elides the public–private entanglements of the Internet, new forms of surveillance/privacy, and knowledge(s) that favour austerity (for some), neo-liberalism, and securitization.


research ethics; informed consent; big data; surveillance; privacy

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