Donating personal transactional data for research

Investigating the public acceptability of using commercial transactional data in public health research


Transactional data - supermarket loyalty cards and banking data - is currently collected and used by private companies to meet their business goals (e.g. to track sales of their products and target promotions), with the general public having little say in the way these data are shared and linked with other datasets. Previous research suggests that most people are willing to donate their personal data for public health research. However, the underlying factors that affect individual decisions to donate (or not to donate) their personal data are still not clear. Therefore a rigorous investigation of the factors affecting these decisions is necessary and timely.

Explaining the science

The proliferation of digital technology has ushered in a new era of understanding individual choices and decision-making. An ever-increasing amount of machine recorded information is routinely generated as we traverse our daily lives, touching on a range of human behaviours from financial activity (via banking records), to eating habits (via supermarket loyalty cards and digital food diaries). The patterns of these real-world choices could aid understanding of the causes and consequences of public health issues such as obesity, diabetes and mental health issues.

Project aims

By analysing and identifying patterns across commercial datasets, it's possible to create positive impacts for individuals, economies and society in areas ranging from identifying the lifestyle causes of rare diseases, to assessing impacts of population level policies and providing recommendations for health interventions. However, there is no consensus, and scant previous attention paid, to what 'good practice' approaches facilitating this type of research may look like.

Specifically, it is not clear:

  • What are the mostly widely held public attitudes towards using transactional data for public health research?
  • What are the publicly acceptable and ethical pathways of using transactional data for public health research?

Through workshops and surveys with general public, as well as working with key industry and government stakeholders, this project aims to develop publicly acceptable forms of consent and pathways of using transactional data for public health research.


The outputs of the project will build a foundation for ethical and privacy-preserving public health research with transactional data which will impact the way in which decision-making and human behaviour are studied.


Contact info

[email protected]