DIGETIK’s GDPR seminar, April 21 2020: Summary

Digital humanities research and GDPR regulations may not always go hand in hand. Recent DIGETIK seminar made it clear that we need to improve the conditions for humanistic and social scientific research under GDPR.

On Tuesday April 21, 2020, DIGETIK (a part of DIGHUMLAB) hosted an online seminar on the topic “GDPR in digital research” with Malene C. Larsen, project lead in DIGETIK, and GDPR expert Kathrine Tvorup Pajkes, team lead in Data Protection in Research at AAU Innovation.

Over 60 researchers from a broad range of institutions across the country had signed up for the seminar, and even though the online seminar format is a “new situation” for most of us, the seminar was an overall success.

Read this short summary of the event and be sure to take part in the next one. 

Welcome, programme and seminar setup

First point of order was a welcome and roundtable hosted by Malene C. Larsen, project leader of DIGETIK and Associate Professor at the Department of Communication and Psychology at Aalborg University.

Malene introduced the programme of the day (below) and explained the setup for the seminar: seminar participants could pose questions and make comments in the chat in Skype for Business while a Google document next to the video conference could be used for more in-depth questions.  

Programme for the online seminar on GDPR by DIGETIK

Roundtable with DIGETIK's advisory board: GDPR in practice

After the general welcome, Malene launched a roundtable with three of the members of the DIGETIK advisory board: Anette Grønning (Associate Professor, Department for the Study of Culture, SDU), Jette Kofoed (Associate professor, DPU, AU) and Niels Brügger (Professor in Media Studies, AU).

The advisory board members talked about both their challenges and successful experiences with GDPR in their work and research. These initial talks were very inspiring and thought-provoking because they were critical of the way GDPR inhibits crucial research in the humanities and even renders it impossible in some cases.

+60 signed up participants

Where did they come from?

What are their interests/fields of study?

GDPR in relation to digital humanistic research - a talk by Kathrine T. Pajkes

For the main part of the seminar, Kathrine Tvorup Pajkes, team lead in Data Protection in Research at AAU Innovation, held a general talk about the data protection regulations in relation to digital humanistic research. Some of the topics that Kathrine addressed in her talk were: 

  • The purpose of the data protetion regulations
  • When do the regulations apply? 
  • Personal data
  • Fundamental principles of GDPR (e.g. purpose, legality, transparency, data minimisation)
  • Duty of disclosure
  • Selected problems and questions 

The talk finished with a broad range of cases and questions sent in by the seminar participants beforehand. 

The backdrop: A GDPR report and a clear demand for knowledge

A recent report made by DIGETIK entitled “GDPR og empirisk forskning på danske universiteter” showed that there is a lack of and demand for knowledge among researchers in the fields of digital humanities and social science.

In particular, researchers face challenges in terms of: 

  • Internet research and automated data collection
  • Cohort studies and research where participants need to be identifiable because of comparability from dataset to dataset.
  • Long-term storage of data, e.g. for historical research, longitudinal studies and data archives.
  • Collection, use and storage of video data.    

The choice of topic for this online seminar was GDPR seeing as DIGETIK has experienced an increasing demand for knowledge as well as clarification of the regulations.

Do you have an idea for a future topic for a DIGETIK seminar? Then get in touch with Malene C. Larsen, project lead in DIGETIK at

Q&A session and a short introduction of the Ethical Challenges guide

After lunch, Kathrine T. Pajkes went through further cases and questions in relation to GDPR in digital research, and the floor was open for anyone to contribute and ask questions and talk about their concrete and everyday challenges with the data protection regulations.

The Q&A session was followed by a short introduction to the Ethical Challenges guide by Line Lisberg Christensen, Research Assistant at DIGETIK, who has worked on updating and expanding the guide. Read more about the guide below.

Ethical challenges in digital research - an online guide

The “Ethical challenges in digital research” guide is a compound of literature created with the intention of helping scholars reflect and discuss the ethical dimensions of their digital research, whilst providing guidance and insight about how to deal with these issues. We have compiled a list of articles, papers, books, book chapters, guidelines and journals which we believe can aid researchers and students alike. Check out:

A new joint initiative for better GDPR conditions for digital research

In the final minutes of the seminar, Malene C. Larsen did a recap of the day and invited all participants to contribute with input and ideas for a follow-up seminar by DIGETIK in the fall 2020.

Several participants commented that it is crucial to engage in the debate on a political level in order to influence the conditions for humanistic and social scientific research under GDPR. One participant mentioned that GDPR, worst case, could result in a “void in humanistic digital research” in the longer run. Another participant commented that it is necessary to balance the focus on  “what we are not allowed to” as researchers with a counter focus on how do we actively influence and improve the demands and restrictions that GDPR places upon us today.       

DIGETIK wishes to be at the head of a joint initiative that gathers a number of strong cases that clearly show in what crucial ways GDPR obstructs digital research within the humanities and social sciences. 

At the follow-up seminar in the fall, DIGETIK would like to open for a discussion of the cases that they’ve collected so far. Afterwards, DIGETIK will direct the appeal including the cases further “up in the system” and publish material that may be distributed to relevant stakeholders.

Send us your GDPR research case

Do you have a “good” case that shows how GDPR inhibits or even renders your research impossible, and that you would let us publish? Then get in touch with Malene C. Larsen at or Steffen, secretary in DIGHUMLAB, at You don’t have to write the full case yourself; we’ll support you in the process and production of it.