A University of Portsmouth lecturer from the School of Art, Design and Performance has developed a comic script for a research project exploring invisible emissions and associated vulnerabilities from digital devices.

Dr Louis Netter, a senior lecturer in illustration, worked on the project with Dr Iain Reid, lecturer in Cybercrime from the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, on the SPRITE+ funded research project, Footprints to emissions: Exploring near-future digital vulnerabilities with creative methodologies.

The two Portsmouth lecturers collaborated with research partners, Dr David Ellis, University of Bath; Dr Philip Wu, Royal Holloway; and supporting partner Dr Asad Ali of Ofcom, the UK’s communications regulator. SPRITE+ is an EPSRC funded Networkplus, which brings together people involved in research, practice, and policy with a focus on digital economy and manufacturing research communities. The ‘Footprints to emissions work’ is a qualitative research project which seeks to explore attitudes and perceptions around digital emissions during the use of smartphones, popular apps and platforms. 

The comic is intended to promote a wider discussion and dialogue around privacy in the current and near-future, and the kind of information sharing that happens with and without public permission. The study is intended for young adults and the results of this project will act as a first step towards a larger body of research that develops future-oriented technical solutions and policy recommendations to reduce the risks of digital emissions, increase trust, and enhance individual and collective privacy. Additionally results will feed into awareness campaigns for the target audience.

Dr Netter said “The abstract nature of digital emissions enabled a more imaginative approach to the content of the comic. The aim was to show how the seemingly invisible and inconsequential can have real implications for privacy, security and employability. I created the comic during the Christmas period and I borrowed ideas from Dicken’s ‘A Christmas Story’ in the way the ghost’s are able to show alternate realities for Scrooge. The comic is an incredibly flexible medium and is well suited for engaging readers in complex ideas and making concepts concrete through visual metaphor.”

Dr Netter created a comic script that utilises satire, fantasy and humour to make study participants aware of the multiple access points to information that big business and tech firms have, from the insignificant to the personal and invasive. A digital ‘fat cat’ was created in the comic to expose the vast network of companies that pool information in order to create useful composites that can be used in direct marketing and, in a more sinister way, profiling for health and employment. 

Dr Reid said “Our research exploring digital footprints to emissions is keen to explore the utility of new creative methodologies in conducting research. We saw the opportunity of developing a comic book for use in our research as an innovative way to have participants visualize, what may be complex, ideas of current and near-future technologies and their implications for privacy. Working with Louis on the development of the comic has been a great opportunity for developing these new approaches to research.”

For more information about the Footprints to emissions research project contact  iain.reid@port.ac.uk, and for information about using illustration for research contact louis.netter@port.ac.uk.