©2010 Bridges/FacebookIn lead up to next week's lecture and readings on online research, check out this recent article by Michael Zimmer entitled: ‘‘But the data is already public’’: on the ethics of research in Facebook, which appeared in a recent issue of the journal Ethics and Information Technology. It discusses some of the more challenging ethical dimensions of using "found" and "public" data in social science research, and we'll very likely talk about this example in class. Here's the abstract:
In 2008, a group of researchers publicly released profile data collected from the Facebook accounts of an entire cohort of college students from a US university. While good-faith attempts were made to hide the identity of the institution and protect the privacy of the data subjects, the source of the data was quickly identified, placing the privacy of the students at risk. Using this incident as a case study, this paper articulates a set of ethical concerns that must be addressed before embarking on future research in social networking sites, including the nature of consent, properly identifying and respecting expectations of privacy on social network sites, strategies for data anonymization prior to public release, and the relative expertise of institutional review boards when confronted with research projects based on data gleaned from social media.You may also want to check out Facebook's own "User Research" program, which it runs in conjunction with all of the data they're already accessing through users' posts and usage of the site itself, as well as the academic-led Facebook Project.