Refugees’ Perceptions of Digital Privacy


  • Eva Dodic University of Ljubljana



It is more difficult for refugees to successfully protect their digital privacy than it is for the general population. Refugees are often forced to give their personal data to governments, who can then use it against them in order to vet, profile and categorize them [1]. Several regulations and protections exist to give refugees some control over their data, however, refugees may be unaware of their rights and options [2]. Digital migration studies (DMS) primarily focus on exploring refugees’ information communication technology (ICT) usage patterns, without asking critically important questions regarding how refugees perceive digital privacy. The aim of this master thesis is to research the digital privacy perceptions of refugees in hope that the findings will enable us to better understand how perceptions drive behaviours and allow us to propose privacy protective socio-technical solutions, which will contribute to empowering them.


Systematic literature research has been conducted on the topic and will be used as a theoretical basis of the master thesis, while surveys will be carried out among refugees as an empirical part of the thesis. Questions in the survey are grouped into the following categories: Demographics, online activity, device usage, knowledge of ICTs and privacy, privacy management behaviour, trust in privacy policies, covid questions, social and economic consequences and personal data scenarios. In order to obtain approval for conducting research on vulnerable populations various ethical considerations will be taken into account. A preliminary pilot study will be carried out to test the survey. Upon improving the study design according to the participants’feedback, a full scale survey will be conducted. The empirical findings will be explored within the frameworks of mental models and affordances, using the paradigms of privacy paradox and digital agency.

Current Status and Expected Results

Current Status and Expected Results

The hypotheses, frameworks and paradigms are still being revised. Due to the exploratory nature of DMS and lack of previous research on this specific topic, the results are difficult to predict.

Several challenges are specific to DMS research. For example, it is difficult to generate representative samples of mobile populations and our access to survey respondents will depend on several NGOs. Another limitation is typically lower response rates among refugees due to PTSD, depression or trauma [3]. Therefore, methodological compromises, such as snowball sampling, will be necessary.


[1] B. Hayes, “Migration and data protection: Doing no harm in an age of mass displacement, mass surveillance and “big data”, International Review of the Red Cross, vol. 99, no. 904, pp. 179 – 209, 2017.

[2] D. Kaurin, “Data Protection and Digital Agency for Refugees”, World Refugee Council Research Paper Series, no. 12, 2019.

[3] J. Kohlenberger, I. Buber-Ennser, B. Rengs, S. Leitner and M. Landesmann, “Barriers to health care access and service utilization of refugees in Austria: Evidence from a cross-sectional survey”, Health Policy, vol. 123, no. 9, pp. 833-839, 2019.