Tracking Your Life: Self-tracking apps and personal data

illustration of woman jogging while wearing headphones, holding her phone in her right hand, and wearing a smart watch on her left wrist

A new course in the Department of Sociology tackles this question, combining analysis of self-tracked data with discussions of ethical issues raised by technology that captures our daily routines. Developed by Zack Almquist, assistant professor of sociology, the course — The Quantified Self: An Introduction to the Societal Implications of Self Tracking — is part of the University’s new data science minor.

Professor Zack Almquist created the course as a follow-up to the department’s popular Data and Society course, which introduces data science concepts and the statistical computing programming language R. The new course offers a deeper dive, focusing on self-tracking. Students work with data sources they can relate to personally, that also have ramifications for society.

“Instead of analyzing random textbook data, in this course students learn how to download and analyze their own data and understand what it means,” says Almquist. For those who prefer not to use their own data, Almquist provides comparable data sets.

Self-tracking can provide helpful information, as anyone with a Fitbit knows. But self-tracking apps have also seen their share of controversy, often related to unwelcome use of personal data.

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