Digital Behavioral Data

New Research Opportunities for the Social Sciences


What is digital behavioral data?

The concept of 'digital behavioral data' (DBD) encompasses digital observations of human and algorithmic behavior which are, amongst others, recorded by online platforms (like Google, Facebook, or the World Wide Web) or sensors (like smartphones, RFID sensors, satellites, or street view cameras). There are overlaps with concepts of  “big data” – with digital behavioral data often sharing their characteristics – or “digital trace data” – which are the basis for measuring digital behavior. “Digital behavioral data”, however, focus on the societally relevant aspects of human and algorithmic behavior and the research perspectives derived from this.

Why do we study digital behavioral data?

Digitization has changed our lives in almost every realm: may it be communication, work, learning and teaching, shopping, traveling, finding a job, a partner, or any piece of information. We all interact in and with socio-technical systems, in which algorithms have a decisive role. Thus, digital behavioral data has become a prime source for monitoring and analyzing the structural development of societies and the behavior of humans therein. With DBD we can approach well-known social science research questions with new forms of data, we can get hold of data in spaces that are left blank by traditional quantitative methods, and, most notably, we can study in vivo the major changes in the private and the public sphere digitization is bringing about.

Why does GESIS engage in this area?

Data standards in the social sciences are high, and digital behavioral data pose quite some challenges to individual scientists who want to integrate them into their research designs. To enable and further promote the use of DBD in social science research and beyond, reliable infrastructures for collecting, pre-processing, analyzing, and providing digital behavioral data are needed. GESIS is the largest infrastructure institution for the social sciences in Europe, is dedicated to data and has a strong record of working with digital behavioral data since 2013 when the institute's Computational Social Science Department was founded. From 2022 on – and thanks to additional funding from the Leibniz Association ("special purpose grant") – we have been able to expand this engagement across departments to become a major pillar of GESIS.


GESIS Consulting on DBD

Here you can get advice on computational social science methods and digital behavioral data. We will be pleased to help!

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GESIS Guides to DBD

We have compiled informative overviews, introductions and examples of good practices to help you.

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Services in development

We expand our portfolio with new services on digital behavioral data. Please contact us, if you have questions or wish to collaborate.

GESIS Panel.dbd

Collect and link high-quality survey data with digital behavioral data.

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GESIS Web Tracking

Use our research software to record browser-based online behavior.

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Create studies and collect high-quality survey data via smartphone and the GESIS AppKit.

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GESIS Web Data

Use our specific data offerings such as X/Twitter data sets for your own analysis.

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GESIS Methods Hub

We are developing an online platform which aims at supporting social scientists in leveraging computer science methods for using DBD to address their research questions.

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The federal and state governments are funding a new research infrastructure for digital behavioral data at GESIS – Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences since January 1st, 2022.

GESIS recognized the potential of digital behavioral data for social science research early on and now is developing this area as part of a strategic expansion. Our proposal convinced both the Leibniz Association and the German Science and Humanities Council (Wissenschaftsrat), which evaluated the project as "very good" and attested it a "Europe-wide unique selling point". Since January 1, 2022, the federal and state governments have been funding the project with a strategic "special purpose grant“ and are thus making an important contribution to enabling research on and with digital behavioral data on a solid infrastructural basis.

The development of our new services is accompanied by methodical research on the quality of digital behavioral data. In addition, GESIS strengthens its expertise in the areas of data protection and ethics through targeted cooperation and is expanding the IT infrastructure. Like all GESIS research infrastructures, the new services are being developed in close cooperation with national and international partner institutions and with the involvement of users.

The Digital Behavioral Data Coordination Group advises GESIS on the conceptualisation, implementation and further development of services and research that are provided as part of the "Special Purpose grant Digital Behavioral Data". The group helps to enable innovative research for the relevant communities from the social sciences and applied computer science.

Coordination group members: