Dundee student’s ‘Meta’ way of valuing data

The Cambridge Analytica scandal has focused the world’s attention on how personal data is utilised in modern society, but just how valuable is your own digital footprint?

That is the question one University of Dundee student has attempted to answer after creating a device that places a price on the information stored on people’s mobile phones.

‘Meta’ is the brainchild of Product Design student Cameron Watt, who says he wants people to have a greater awareness of how their personal data is collected and used.

The 21-year-old, from East Lothian, is encouraging visitors to this year’s Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design and Architecture Degree Show to surrender their handsets and give Meta a chance to determine how valuable its contents may be to advertisers.

With the issue of personal data security having made headline news of late, Cameron said, “I did a survey at the start of the year and what came back is that people are aware that their data is being sold, but don’t know who really has access to it.

“As the Cambridge Analytica situation has come to light, people definitely seem more aware of the issue and I’ve designed Meta to make people aware of the risks of digital devices and data as a whole. This might appear meaningless to us, but in context it allows corporations to build profiles of users and that has real value.

“The industry is worth billions so there is clearly money in it.”

Meta will ask visitors to this year’s Degree Show for permission to evaluate their device before producing a ‘receipt’ of its value.

In developing his prototype, Cameron admits that pinpointing the exact value of data has been one of his greatest hurdles, given the secrecy that surrounds the industry.

However, he says that one of the most important aspects in his creation is forcing the user to physically surrender their handset as Meta carries out its calculations.

“I want Degree Show visitors to have to actually give away their phone and step back from it for a moment,” he continued.

“People will happily give away their data when it’s in their pocket as it seems invisible, but handing over their device and stepping back will be really interesting to watch. I want visitors to understand that their information is an asset and something that they should value.”

With smart home technology becoming ever more commonplace, Meta has been deliberately designed to resemble modern devices such as Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home.

However, while acknowledging that he wants people to think more about their own digital footprint, Cameron admits that developing Meta has often prompted him to surrender his own details.

“All of these pieces of metadata are creating a profile of someone within a corporation,” he said.

“I find it very interesting and have been open to it all, signing up for things and immersing myself in it all.

“I’m not too bothered about these companies having my data, but I do want to know what they are doing with it.”

Cameron is one of more than 300 students exhibiting at this year’s Degree Show.

Taking place from May 18 to 27, more than 15,000 visitors are expected to attend the event this year, considered one of the highlights of Scotland’s cultural calendar.

Admission to the Degree Show is free with further details available online.

For media enquiries contact:
Jonathan Watson
Media Relations Officer
University of Dundee
Nethergate, Dundee, DD1 4HN
Tel: +44 (0)1382 381489
Email: j.s.watson@dundee.ac.uk