Thursday, 16 June 2022

‘Real-time’ air quality channels: A technology review of emerging environmental alert systems by Kayla Schulte

Kayla Schulte introduces a new paper on, "‘Real-time’ air quality channels: A technology review of emerging environmental alert systems", out in Big Data & Society  doi:10.1177/20539517221101346. First published June 15, 2022.

Video abstract


Poor air quality is a pressing global challenge contributing to adverse health impacts around the world. In the past decade, there has been a rapid proliferation of air quality information delivered via sensors, apps, websites or other media channels in near real-time and at increasingly localized geographic scales. This paper explores the growing emphasis on self-monitoring and digital platforms to supply informational interventions for reducing pollution exposures and improving health outcomes at the individual level. It presents a technological case study that characterizes emerging air quality information communication mechanisms, or ‘AQ channels’, while drawing upon examples throughout the literature. The questions are posed: which air quality channels are ‘freely’ available to individuals in London, UK, and when and where are they accessed? Digital trace data and metadata associated with 54 air quality channels are synthesized narratively and graphically. Results reveal air quality channels derive air pollution estimates using common data sources, display disparate messaging, adopt variable geographic scales for reporting ‘readings’ and maintain psychosocial barriers to access and adoption of exposure-reducing behaviours. The results also point to a clear association between the publication of a high-profile news article about air pollution and increased air quality channel access. These findings illuminate a need for greater transparency around how air quality channels generate personalized air pollution exposure estimates and tailor messaging. The paper concludes by calling for air quality channel developers to exercise co-creative methods that can support sustainable, democratic data and knowledge production around air quality, while critically approaching disproportionate patterns of both pollution and information exposure.

Keywords: Air pollutionenvironmental datadigital tracesknowledge productionplatformsdigital inequality