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SMEs digital footprints and their ethical implications

This project focuses on SMEs who have been facing challenges regarding the rapidly increased usage of digital tools (e-mails, cloud, big data), particularly after the COVID-19 outbreak. The aim of this research project is to develop an analytical framework that helps SMEs to better understand their digital footprints and their ethical implications both at organisational and individual levels. The main objectives of this project are: - to explore the main ethical concerns regarding the SMEs' digital footprints, in terms of transparency strategies of organisations and equal opportunities for individuals. - to investigate the processes required to develop organisations understanding of their organisational digital footprints - to better understand the transparency strategy at organisational (employer) and individual (employee) levels in building sustainable and ethical growth in SMEs. 

COVID-19 outbreak has posed a significant shift to the digital world and consequently caused massive challenges to the protection of human rights. Digitalisation of the business environment creates digital footprints that blur the boundaries between individuals and organisations, and creates various risks in terms of transparency, equality, and inclusion.

Previous research has shown that the Covid-19 pandemic necessitates digitalisation by creating circumstances like remote working, which is one of the main sources of digital footprints. A large number of SMEs' executives specified that their prime concern in SMEs is digitalisation strategies. Since the COVID-19 pandemic has created an extensive dependency on the digital world, SMEs have severe challenges for the management of data and digital footprints.

This project is an 18-month action research programme, where data will be gathered to develop insights both at organisational and individual levels to use digital footprints ethically and safely in creating business and social value and support future work scenarios.

Project partners

HR Tech Partnership  and TechMahindra 

Read our blog

Web watches and remembers everything: What is Digital footprint? - Posted: May 11 2021 - Ozlem Ayaz Arda, Read more

Web watches and remembers everything: What is Digital footprint?

You’ve got one. So have we. But what is a digital footprint?

Basically, it’s the ‘trail’ of data you leave behind whenever you’re online.

Ever had one of those ‘oops’ moments where you hit ‘reply all’ on a snarky email? If so, you’ve grown your digital footprint – by mistake!

Since COVID-19, we’re all relying on technology more than ever – working at home, battling our inboxes and meeting over Zoom.

For many of us, it’s a new experience. Across Europe, over half of those who started remote working in the pandemic had never worked this way before.

Over half of SME executives are more worried about digital than anything else.

They’re right to be concerned. A data breach can be costly, in reputation as well as cash. And more remote working means bigger footprints – and greater risks.

We're researching the digital footprints at SMEs, and we’d love to hear from you if you work in a smaller firm – or lead one.

Comment here and let us know: What does digital footprint mean to you? How do you manage yours? What are your priorities, challenges and plans?


Thank you!


References and further reading:

‘Telework in the EU before and after the COVID-19: where we were, where we head to’. European Commission, 2020 

KFW European SME Survey, 2019 


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Who actually owns and controls digital footprints? - Posted: June 14 2021 - Ozlem Ayaz Arda, Asieh Hosseini Tabaghdehi, Ainurul Rosli, Read more

SMEs are vital for providing goods and services, creating jobs and driving innovation. In fact, they account for almost half of jobs and a third of turnover in the UK private sector.

Digitalisation is vital for SMEs, as it is for all organisations. However, SMEs find it more challenging than most.

Many SMEs find data protection and data security challenging, By focusing on digital transformation , they may end up neglecting digital privacy.

The more information people share, the more their privacy is at risk. Since the pandemic, we’ve all become even more reliant on digital – but we have less time to think about the issues it raises.

Digital footprints are the trails of data we all leave online. For SMEs, the problem is finding the boundaries that who actually owns and controls someone’s digital footprint?

We’re researching how SMEs handle digital footprints and the ethical issues around them.

How has working online changed the way you handle your digital presence? Do your employees have the relevant skills to protect the business online

Let us know in the comments in here

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Meet the Principal Investigator(s) for the project

Project last modified 08/02/2021