Digital Breadcrumbs: A Lack of Data Privacy and What People Are Doing About It

  • Carley WardEmail author
  • Dana Ellis
  • Lisa A. D’Ambrosio
  • Joseph F. Coughlin
Conference paper
Part of the Lecture Notes in Computer Science book series (LNCS, volume 10901)


With the seemingly ubiquitous presence of technology, interactions and transactions constantly take place over websites, apps, text, and email. Despite the convenience and efficiency of these modes of communication, these online interactions give many parties access to personal information and can leave individuals’ information vulnerable to misuse and attack. As people use electronic devices for more and more tasks, they leave behind evidence of their activities, a trail of digital breadcrumbs providing behavioral and demographic information about where they go, whom they talk to, what they do, and what they believe. Consumers are often unaware of who has access to these data and how they might be used. In this mixed methods study, researchers conducted a series of surveys and focus groups in the United States to examine the everyday digital breadcrumb trail people leave behind when using technologies on a daily basis, people’s awareness of this trail of data, and what measures they take to protect their digital information and prevent it from being collected or misused. Participants discussed their attitudes about data privacy, sharing, and trust. Implications for research, business, and policy are provided.


Data privacy Digital breadcrumbs Mixed methods 



The authors gratefully acknowledge research support from Liberty Mutual.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Carley Ward
    • 1
    Email author
  • Dana Ellis
    • 1
  • Lisa A. D’Ambrosio
    • 1
  • Joseph F. Coughlin
    • 1
  1. 1.Massachusetts Institute of Technology AgeLabCambridgeUSA

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