Understanding and Sizing the Lifelogging Phenomenon

In view of the concern triggered in the population by the recent change in privacy conditions by WhatsApp[1], it is pertinent to reflect on the Lifelogging phenomenon, a lifestyle adopted by a growing number of people around the world, fueling the discussion on the digital footprint, while psychologists and sociologists reflect on its impact.

What is Lifelogging and how does it impact contemporary society?

By: Gabriel E. Levy B.


The concept of Lifelogging refers to the process whereby human beings keep a meticulous and detailed record of their daily lives, through multiple digital devices to capture information, including video and photographic record, detailed location of places visited, record of food consumed, vital signs, among many other aspects, which has been enhanced with the massification of the so-called Smartphones and Smartwatch, which allow the comprehensive capture of this information[2].


In simple terms, Lifelogging is a digital, manual or automatic logbook, which generally records relevant information about people’s lives on a voluntary and constant basis.

An Ancient Concept

Keeping a record of daily activities in chronological form dates back to Classical Antiquity, in Persepolis the first traces of this form of writing were found, through recordings on clay tablets in which information of people’s lives, social events or climatic or astronomical situations, as well as commercial transactions were recorded.

In the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, the development of maritime navigation led to the appearance of voyage logs, used up to the present day, in which sailors, in their respective guards, recorded the data of the events of their voyages [3].

With the emergence of the industrial revolution, the enlightenment movement and the development of modern science, professionals from multiple disciplines became accustomed to keeping journals with the record of evidence and processes applied.

Although it is unknown how old the concept of the personal diary may be, that is, a diary kept to record daily life, it is possible to establish that its massification occurred in the 20th century, after the publication of the diary book written by Anne Frank at the time of the Second World War [4].

Perhaps the most iconic and largest personal diary produced so far is the one by Robert Shields, a well-known lifeguard, who manually recorded 25 years of his life from 1972 to 1997, in 5-minute intervals. This record resulted in a 37-million-word autobiographical document, believed to be the longest ever written [5].

The Digital Logbooks

In the early 1980s, the renowned American computer scientist Steve Mann was the first person to capture continuous physiological data along with live first-person video from a handheld camera. His experiments with handheld computing and video transmission led to the subsequent construction of the portable wireless webcam [6].


Beginning in 1994, Mann continuously streamed his life, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and invited others to see what he was watching, as well as to send him live feeds or messages in real time.

In 1998, Mann started a community of lifebloggers (also known as lifebloggers or lifegloggers) which reached over 20,000 members [7].

In December 1999, Josh Harris, one of the many Internet pioneers who created the conceptual art social experiment called “We Live in Public“, whereby he broadcasted on the Internet 24 hours a day, 7 days a week [8], through a format similar to Big Brother TV format, Harris placed telephones, microphones and 32 robotic cameras in the house he shared with his girlfriend, Tanya Corrin [9].

In 2003, a project called LifeLog was initiated at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency – DARPA (the same agency that created and funded ARPANET), under the supervision of Douglas Gage. This project would combine several technologies to record life activities in order to create a life log. Soon after, the notion of lifelogging was identified as a technological and cultural practice that could be exploited by governments, corporations or the military through surveillance [10].

Although DARPA’s Lifelogging project was cancelled in 2004, the initiative helped popularize the idea and use of the term Lifelogging in everyday discourse and gave way to the concept gaining momentum and massification in contemporary times.

A phenomenon that is gaining momentum

As the so-called SMART: Smartphone, SmartWatch, etc., have become globally popular, Lifelogging has also grown. For Jorge Fraganillo, researcher at the University of Barcelona, author of the study ‘Lifelogging’: the phenomenon of personal black boxes, ensures that we are leaving a digital footprint that becomes a detailed record of all our activities, what we could call the spontaneous Lifelogging, without realizing it and thanks to multiple technological devices that we carry permanently with us, such as the cell phone.

The device par excellence for lifelogging is in the palm of everyone’s hand and it is the cell phone. Users, with their instant messaging and email apps, social media posts and digital photo albums, are already creating a chronological and geographical reference, as many people keep a continuous and thorough real-time record of various relevant aspects of their own lives [11]”.

For his part, the renowned Science Fiction writer, Ted Chaing, who has reflected extensively on this subject and its impact on people’s lives, said in an interview for the Spanish newspaper El País, that:

The best example is social networks and their applications that constitute what Fraganillo calls “a digital autobiography” of the user. The most popular ones – Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, TikTok – already integrate most of these lifelogging functions. “If you use social networks you are lifelogging; even if lifelogging is not necessarily your intention,” warns Ted Chaing, science fiction writer in an article recently published by the Retina magazine of Spain’s newspaper El País [12].

The main problem of what we have called: “Spontaneous Lifelogging” is that the people who serve to provide the information are not necessarily aware of this phenomenon, and it may happen, or may be happening, that third parties, such as corporations that own social media or mobile manufacturers, are building and individualizing a type of Lifelogging for each user with a record of all the activities of their lives, without even that person being aware and probably having given their approval by accepting the fine print of the terms of use and privacy policies.

Lifelogging on another level

In parallel, there is another type of lifelogging that we could call intentional and that occurs at another level, such as SnapCam and YoCam, devices capable of recording everything the user sees for hours at a time and sharing the material instantly, and applications that record everything, such as EXIST.


What we have called Intentional lifelogging may occur when a subject voluntarily decides to collect all the information that the digital devices of daily use yield and process it in order to keep a detailed record of their private life, creating a kind of digital diary whose sources of information are precise, digital and automated and that can eventually be combined with manual records, if desired.

For the sociologist and digital analyst Marta Espuny Contreras, interviewed and quoted by the Digital Magazine Retina of the Spanish newspaper El País:

The implications of lifelogging -many times related to Artificial Intelligence tools, such as facial recognition- could be one of the biggest threats to users’ privacy, not only because there are people who do not choose to be recorded and are going to be filmed, but because we have not even thought about it [13].”

Regardless of whether it is intentional or spontaneous lifelogging, it is clear that there is a considerable risk to people’s privacy, since a large amount of information is now in the hands of not only the person who produces the information, but also the manufacturers of applications and software that can use the data for commercial, advertising or even espionage and military purposes.

In this regard Jorge Fraganillo considers that:

Given that the exploitation of data derived from lifelogging has considerable potential, this practice has become the subject of debate and initiatives have emerged that advocate for a socially responsible use of the sensitive information it generates [14]”

A multi-billion-dollar business

The lifelogging phenomenon could become the main source of information for the so-called data brokerage business: Data Brokers, a topic we analyzed extensively in a previous article [15], also known as data sellers or marketers, i.e. people or companies dedicated to collecting information from consumers through algorithms, either with or without their permission, and selling it to a third party interested in obtaining such information, for various legal purposes, or not.

In simple terms, data brokers are companies dedicated to the collection, processing and sale of personal information, in a growing global market of high demand from buyers, some legal and others outside the law.

The data broker market is a thriving business that is growing around the world and it is not only multi-million dollar companies such as Google or Facebook that earn a fortune by manipulating user data, but also shadowy organizations that sell this information on the Dark Web, a growing market where lifelogging can become a colossal source of income[16].

In conclusion, although lifelogging is not necessarily a recent phenomenon, its massification in recent years has turned it into a risk to people’s privacy, whether it is done consciously by the user or spontaneously without the user even knowing it, generating a colossal information footprint that can drive information trading through data brokers in a growing legal and irregular market.

For many experts in the field, the lifelogging phenomenon should be the subject of further academic analysis and more rigorous regulation by governments around the world.

[1] Andinalink article: WhatsApp and the Indignation of its users.

[2] Academic article: Lifelogging: the phenomenon of personal “black boxes”.

[3] Wikipedia article on travel logs.

[4] Wikipedia article on Anne Frank’s diary.

[5] Martin, Douglas. “Robert Shields, Wordy Diarist, Dies at 89”. The New York Times.

[6] Sensate Liner Quarterly Review, April 23-24, 1997, Natick Army Labs, Dr. Eric J. Lind, Naval Command Control and Ocean Surveillance Center, Research Development Evaluation and Testing Division, Department of Navigation and Applied Sciences, Environmental Sciences Division, Materials, Sensors and Systems Branch Code 364.

[7] Wearable computing, a first step toward personal imaging, IEEE Computer, vol. 30, No. 2, February 1997, 25-32.

[8] Hipertextual article on Josh Harris.

[9] Charles Platt (November 2000). “Smoking video”. Wired. Archived from the original on January 11, 2007.

[10] Pedersen, Isabel (2005). “A semiotics of human actions for wearable augmented reality interfaces”. Semiotica. 155 (1): 183-201. doi: 10.1515 / semi.2005.2005.155.1part4.183.

[11] Academic Article: Lifelogging: the phenomenon of personal “black boxes”.

[12] Ted Chaing, science fiction writer in an article recently published by the Retina magazine of the Spanish newspaper El País.

[13] Marta Espuny Contreras, in an article published by the Retina magazine of the Spanish newspaper El País.

[14] Academic article: Lifelogging: the phenomenon of personal “black boxes”.

[15] Andinalink article: Data brokers, the regulatory challenge.

[16] Andinalink article: Data brokers, the regulatory challenge.

Disclaimer: The published articles correspond to contextual reviews or analyses on digital transformation in the information society, duly supported by reliable and verified academic and/or journalistic sources.  The publications are NOT opinion articles and therefore the information they contain does not necessarily represent Andinalink’s position, nor that of their authors or the entities with which they are formally linked, regarding the topics, persons, entities or organizations mentioned in the text.