Digital Self-Determination

Duration: 11/2015-05/2016

Project Board

Prof. Dr. med. Christiane Woopen
Prof. Dr. Christian Rietz
Coordinator: Marc Jannes, M.Sc.


Various areas of life are fundamentally changed by the advancing digitization of society. In this context, the continuous improvement of ways to collect, analyze and use personal data poses particular challenges. Whereas digitization promises tremendous societal and economic benefits, it might also bear considerable risks to freedom of choice and action for individuals, as it becomes more and more difficult for them to act in a self-determined way in the digital realm. Hence, a scientifically well-founded concept of “digital self-determination” is gaining importance from a theoretical as well as practical point of view, to ensure that these issues can be adequately described, analyzed and tackled.
The notion of “digital self-determination”, as well as related terms such as “digital autonomy” and privacy, started to make their way into the public and scientific debates only recently. To date, however, an elaborated theoretical concept is missing that clarifies “digital self-determination” from a normative point of view, and allows to identify crucial empirical prerequisites for being able to act self-determined.

Research questions and aims

The guiding question “What is ‘digital self-determination’?” served as a starting point and core issue of the inquiry. The study, funded by the Deutsche Telekom AG, used a mix of normative and empirical methods: First, an explorative literature search and a philosophical concept analysis have been conducted with the aim of devising a normative concept of digital self-determination. Secondly, based on this devised concept, a survey questionnaire has been developed which was applied later on to a representative sample of the German population. Amongst others, this allowed gaining insights into the attitudes of German users towards the use of their personal data by third parties.
The overall goal of the study is to stimulate further scientific research on digital self-determination in order to develop measures to improve digital self-determination when using digital media.


The results of the study can be downloaded here (free of charge, in German).