1: People's knowledge gap

Although digital and data technologies are becoming more and more ubiquitous and influential in our daily lives, people’s knowledge about how these technologies work and how they affect their lives is limited. 

Course Section

Knowledge gap?

  • Research finding: In 2018, a study by the NGO Doteveryone on digital understanding found a “major understanding gap” of British citizens when it comes to digital technologies. For example, they found that 83% of British don’t realise that information shared about them by others is collected, and 70% don’t realise free apps make money from data.

  • Finding: In 2020, another study by Doteveryone found that while the public’s understanding of data collection has increased, it still “remains shallow”, especially in regards to tech companies’ business models and the way they use data.

  • Finding: A 2022 large-scale international study found that only 43% of participants know why the Google search engine or Facebook (42%) are free of charge to use. Apart from that, only one in three know that search engines show personalised results for each user, and 24% “have no idea” how a search engine ranks results.

Also when it comes to algorithms more generally, there is a crucial gap of knowledge.

  • Finding: A European study found that nearly half of Europeans don‘t know what an algorithm is and are unaware “that algorithms are already being used in many areas of life”.

Teaching about Data 1: People's knowledge gap

Thirst for knowledge

However, despite this lack of knowledge about how data technologies work, what they do with people’s data and how internet services earn money, most people care about their data and want to know how it’s used.

  • Finding: 89% of British citizens think it’s important to control how much data they share with a company, but only 25% know how to find out this information and only 19% have ever used privacy-sensitive services (See source).

  • Finding: 74% of Europeans want “more rigorous controls on the use of algorithms in decision-making contexts” source.

  • Finding: research has shown that targeted advertising makes people feel uncomfortable, that they find data collection less acceptable (43% unacceptable) when they learn how adtech works (source) and that they react with “surprise and anger” when being made aware of the ways in which their data is used (source).

What this means for educators

This is a key moment for educators. And we must all respond to this thirst for knowledge with care.


Many people would like to take control and restrict their data disclosure but don’t know how, and some also feel like “there's no point in doing so as companies will get round them anyway”.

This ‘resignation’ or ‘surveillance realism’ that many people know from their everyday experiences with digital technologies has also been found by several scholars examining people’s attitudes to data collection. It occurs “when a person believes an undesirable outcome [in this case: data collection] is inevitable and feels powerless to stop it” (see study).

However, importantly: resignation is not the same as consent with data collection but rather describes the feeling of having given up on one’s data being controlled.

In a later section we will cover how, as an educator, you can navigate this resignation.

With optimism

Studies show a significant change in recent years, and a significantly positive one. Previously industry and government felt that it was ok to use people’s data because people would only object if they had ‘something to hide’. Study after study refutes this ‘nothing to hide’ claim.

In fact, research shows a gap in people’s knowledge of data tech and their ability to protect their data, but also many people’s wish for more transparency, control and agency.

We developed this resource to raise awareness and educate to help fill this gap and respond to this aspiration.

It’s essential that we simultaneously conduct more education about how data systems work while also ensuring for better oversight of these data and tech systems.

We would like to encourage all educators to address topics around digital technologies, (big) data and data systems in their teaching. These topics apply to a wide range of educational fields – from early-learning to pre-university, from basic IT skills training to data security workshops, from teaching business studies or economics to civic education or critical thinking.

In this teaching resource, we aim to provide educators with all the information and materials they need to incorporate topics around data tech in their education. We are calling for fostering critical data literacy for every person in today’s digital societies.

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