Workshop 1: 12:30 – 14:00

Challenges of research with Digital Footprints in Longitudinal Population Studies

Location: 2D3, Priory Road Complex, University of Bristol, 12 Priory Rd, Bristol BS8 1TU

Organiser: Anya Skatova (University of Bristol)

For any questions about the workshop, please contact Anya Skatova on




Digital Footprints (otherwise known as Smart Data), encompassing sources like loyalty cards, wearable sensors, and app-derived records, offers a trove of valuable insights crucial for enhancing public health and wellbeing. This data captures intricate details about various aspects such as diet, mobility, sleep patterns, relationships, spending habits, and online activities. It furnishes objectively recorded information concerning health and social behaviours, providing indicators that are typically difficult to gather directly from individuals. Despite its relevance to numerous societal issues, significant questions persist regarding its acceptability for research, data quality, and suitable research methodologies.

The integration of Digital Footprints into the wealth of biomedical, social, administrative and health records data already collected by Longitudinal Population Studies (LPS) holds immense potential, offering bi-directional opportunities that cannot be achievable otherwise. LPS data from the UK’s multidisciplinary studies are a unique resource for understanding the inferences that can be drawn from Digital Footprints Data (e.g., do purchases of ultra-processed food increase risk of cancer?). The potential of cross-referencing data from LPS surveys, linked administrative and health records, and Digital Footprints can unlock new scientific insights and enhance our understanding of population behaviours and trends, directly contributing to societal benefit.

Integrating Digital Footprints into LPS databases is in its infancy and raises concerns related to participant acceptability, ethics, legal foundations, infrastructure, disclosure risk management, data flow, and interpretation. This workshop will review existing research projects in UK LPS that used Digital Footprints data and discuss a range of challenges that researchers and studies’ teams face. This will include barriers to data linkage (including participant acceptability, ethics, legal and infrastructure barriers as well as research-related challenges (such as methodology, biases in the data and others).

The workshop will start with the brief introduction to the topic & aims of the workshop by Anya Skatova, followed by 5-min reflections on challenges of research with Digital Footprints data in LPS from workshop attendees. This will be concluded by plenary discussion.

The workshop will aim to serve as a springboard to produce a joint viewpoint paper summarising common challenges and solutions for linking Digital Footprints data with LPS.