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Matthew Voigts

Studying for a PhD in Digital Economy Research

Thesis Title

  • Privacy and agency in refugees’ digital communications

My ethnographically-based research concerns better understanding refugees’ conceptions of privacy, and applying their concerns to larger theoretical, policy and design concerns around the topic.

Digital-era academic and legal discussions closely associate privacy with the management of personal information. These and earlier conceptions have valued privacy for its role in facilitating taking a ‘break’ from social pressures, facilitating democratic participation, and helping to manage different aspects of one’s public life. Altogether, these have tended to view privacy as an extension of claims to individual freedom within the domestic space, and as a tool for managing one’s social life by selectively revealing and concealing information appropriate to difference audiences – for example, selecting who can see what items on a social media profile. This largely assumes the individual to be a rational actor within a stable social structure.

Many refugees who have recently arrived in Europe use mobile phones for navigation and everyday communication, and have concerns around data security. Yet they have challenging relationships to the assumptions that underlie ‘privacy’ as described above. They have left their homes under extraordinarily challenging circumstances, and remain at different stages of a complicated asylum system. Their legal right to settle in safe countries is contingent on demonstrating a lack of other options, and consequently the self-presentation capacities associated with privacy may be viewed with suspicion. This research seeks to better explore refugees’ experiences, applying them to interrogate the role of information management in providing the benefits associated with privacy, ultimately reconsidering what digital privacy might mean for people in the midst of instability.




Gauci, J.-P. et. al., 2016. Migrants' Use of Social Media in Malta. People for Change Malta. Naxxar, Malta.

Voigts, M., 2014. 150,000 hens killed in fire at egg facility. 31 March 2014. The Des Moines Register. 

Voigts, M., 2014. On high school homecomings. Material World. 22 Jan 2014.

Voigts, M., 2013. King’s Cross bikes, memorials, and urban experience. 8 March 2013. Material World. A

Voigts, M., 2013. Camp 2.0. 7 Jan 2013. Material World.


Beyond disclosure: considering inferences as conceptual aspects of informational privacy. Conference paper. 11th International IFIP Summer School on Privacy and Identity Management. 21-26 August 2016, University of Karlstad. 

Migrants’ use of social media on Malta. Media and migration workshop. 13 July, 2016. University of Leicester.

Public Engagement Activities

Sharing refugee-produced artwork with my hometown (see my own commentary and local media coverage)

Participant in Jugular Productions roundtable discussion: Privacy, Protection, Publicity: Does Your Freedom Have Boundaries? Feb 6, 2016 at The Proud Archivist, London, UK.


Supported by the Horizon Centre for Doctoral Training at the University of Nottingham (RCUK Grant No. EP/L015463/1) 

Partnered with the Open Rights Group

Other Networks