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The Ethics of Internet Research. Rebecca Eynon, Jenny Fry and Ralph Schroeder Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford www.oii.ox.ac.uk. New technology, old and new ethics. Ethical governance in traditional research settings What’s new? Sensitivity to context

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the ethics of internet research

The Ethics of Internet Research

Rebecca Eynon, Jenny Fry and Ralph Schroeder

Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford

www.oii.ox.ac.uk

new technology old and new ethics
New technology, old and new ethics
  • Ethical governance in traditional research settings
  • What’s new?
  • Sensitivity to context
  • Approaches to Internet research
    • Gathering data directly from individuals
    • Analyzing Interaction in Virtual Environments
    • Internet as a Social Science Lab
gathering data directly from individuals
Gathering data directly from individuals
  • Focus on survey, interviews and focus groups
    • Benefits and risks
    • Ensuring confidentiality
    • Informed consent
  • A balancing act
    • Protected but not burdened
benefits and risks
Benefits and risks
  • Protection of harm online
    • More difficult to assess the risks and benefits online
    • More of an issue for interviews and focus groups than surveys?
  • Strategies
    • Make it clear participants can leave
    • Prior rapport with participant
    • Establishing netiquette
  • Protection of harm - researchers & participants
ensuring anonymity and confidentiality
Ensuring anonymity and confidentiality
  • Perceived anonymity of the Internet
  • Considerations when
    • Transmitting data
    • Storing data
    • Interacting with participants
      • Difficulties of direct email contact
        • FAQs
        • Rewards for participating
informed consent
Informed consent
  • Difficult in any context but often more so online
    • Distance between researcher & participant
    • Challenges anonymity strategies
  • Strategies
    • Email discussion
    • Readability of documents
    • Using quizzes to check understanding
  • Verifying ability to give informed consent
    • Recruitment strategy
    • Verifying identity – e.g. via a credit card
analyzing interaction in virtual environments
Analyzing Interaction in Virtual Environments
  • Focus on graphical online spaces with avatar interaction
  • Differences in text-only versus voice communication, video- versus virtual, etc.
  • Contexts of use include online gaming, spaces for socializing and collaborating, training online for offline tasks, experimenting in virtual
research on ves contexts and the role of the researcher
Research on VEs: Contexts and the role of the Researcher
  • Contact people offline?
    • Weigh burden on research participant
  • The online social setting: formally public, but respect the conventions for the privacy of the space?
    • Be sensitive to context
  • Disclose researcher identity?
    • Online possibilities are different from offline (ID tag)
  • ‘Invasion’ of researchers
    • Respect social milieu
research on ves data capture
Research on VEs: Data Capture
  • Tools for capture are more powerful than for capturing offline interactions
  • Anonymous data about populations, but surveillance?
  • Reproducing and anonymizing captured interactions, but possible identification by search?
research in online worlds
Research in Online Worlds
  • Maintaining the trust of environments and avatars and the persons ‘behind them’
  • New possibilities for the study of social interaction in online worlds and VEs
    • Virtual Milgram as example
  • A balance of deontological and utilitarian research ethics
large scale analysis of online domains
Large-scale analysis of online domains
  • The Internet as a social science laboratory
  • Capacity to capture traces of social interaction on a global scale
  • Creation of data sets and visualization tools that enable previously invisible social structures to be rendered visible
  • Raises unique set of ethical issues
private spaces in public places
Private spaces in public places
  • Online forum open to the public: ‘forbidden love’ and ‘the art of forbidden love’(Example thanks to Gustavo Mesch)
  • Participants assume a role, use of nicknames, keeping places of work and home private
  • Need an email address and password to contribute; if not a member you can read postings
  • Active contributors @50 people, readership much larger; ability to have private one-to-one messages
  • A kind of support group; meet every 2-3 months in a café etc.
  • Issues of privacy and anonymity very important to the group
researcher dilemma
Researcher dilemma
  • All stories are public; archived for past two years; a lot of data
  • Contributors do not have a sense of public, they are part of a group; conflict with the concept of ‘open’
  • What O’Riordan and Bassett (2002) term ‘nested utopic’ spaces
  • This perception relates directly to content analysis; but
  • There are structural issues relating to:
    • culture, values, role of the community, who sustains it, what is the interaction?
  • What would be harm in this context? Does not involve direct human intervention, so little formal guidance
  • Who has right to structural information?
contextual integrity
Contextual integrity
  • Closely related to personal perceptions of privacy
  • New contexts may necessitate different privacy protections
  • Status and interests in data may change over time
  • More difficult to gauge what is ethically appropriate
  • Privacy online closely related to how the Internet is governed
conclusions
Conclusions
  • Challenges in devising a code of practice in a global context
  • Necessity to represent and incorporate diverse
    • Disciplines
    • research methods
    • cultural practices
    • institutional governance and;
    • legal frameworks
  • Research object no longer clearly delineated and protected by national boundaries
  • Convergence of commercial and research interests due to ease of re-use
  • Data are more likely to be reconceptualised in new settings by new actors
  • Is there a boundary to be respected between the online and offline worlds of online social actors?
  • To what extent should we protect from harm for unforeseen consequences?