[Air-l] Google is watching !

Hamish Cunningham H.Cunningham at dcs.shef.ac.uk
Thu May 20 15:06:39 PDT 2004


perhaps we should remember where this discussion started - someone advocating
complete irresponsibility in social research, then squirming around trying
to avoid admitting that any of his (weak and inconsistent) arguments were in
any way flawed, even given some very weighty counter arguments. so your
intervention, which doesn't distance itself from that context, can seem to
implicitly support it. there is far more under discussion than the question
of considering anything available on the web as potentially research material,
so just polarising the issue in this way doesn't seem very helpful.

also note that the original discussion did not exclude private forums -
those that are password protected and therefore not searchable (google
*isn't* watching), and that search engines have a convention for
allowing privacy in non-password-protected pages (via a file called
"robots.txt" placed on web servers).

there are lots of lurking watchers of a somewhat dubious nature out there,
from the spam bots to the CIA's automated content extraction software; our
advocate of ignoring all ethical issues risks associating social research
with this type of entity.



[I get too much email, and I use
  junk filters. If I don't reply,
  please resend, or phone!]

Thomas Koenig wrote:

> At 17:36 20/05/2004, Charles Ess wrote:
>> Two important points to be made here.
>> 1.  It is a basic point of ethical reflection that "what _is_ the 
>> case" does
>> not automatically define what _ought_ to be the case.
>> People rob, rape, and commit genocide.  They are capable of doing so - 
>> and
>> contemporary technology makes the last increasingly easy to do.  But 
>> these
>> facts hardly justify our saying "and so we _ought_ to rob, rape, and 
>> commit
>> genocide."
> Has somebody advocated robbery or worse on the listserv? I don't recall 
> that. People also eat, drink, and have (consensual) sex.
>>     By the same token, then,
> ... should we outlaw eating, drinking, and making out?
> Obviously not. Rape and genocide are obviously morally reprehensible 
> acts. To equate these acts implicitly with treating publicly available 
> material as public seems a bit far-fetched to me. I personally find it 
> perfectly legitimate to conduct so-called "concealed" research, but that 
> does not mean, I would advocate genocide.
>>  to say that we can eliminate any realistic
>> expectation of privacy through contemporary technologies, beginning 
>> with a
>> Google or other search engine search, does not automatically imply 
>> that we
>> ought to do so - and/or, that we are relieved of any responsibility to
>> protect an increasingly illusory and threatened sense of privacy.
>>     Indeed, one response to the increasing erosion of privacy is to find
>> better means to defend and protect it - whether these involve improved
>> technologies and/or various forms of ethical, social, and legal 
>> responses.
> The private in itself is not morally superior to the public. There are 
> situations, when one should demand privacy and others, when "going 
> public" is the "right" approach. Democracy, for one, thrives on *public* 
> deliberations, to relegate political discussions on the net to the realm 
> of the private could also be seen as pretty patronizing towards 
> "ordinary" citizens.
> I myself cannot see, how the Internet "erodes" privacy, at least not in 
> the ways it was discussed here (Google searches, "concealed" 
> ethnography). Nobody is forced to publish anything on the net. What 
> could, e.g., be a privacy concern is the analysis of IP logs to check on 
> surfing behavior, but that was not a point in the discussion here.
>> 2. [...]
>> In this context, any suggestion on my part that the increasing erosion of
>> privacy might require us to rethink whether, and if so, how far, 
>> researchers
>> and others are obliged to try to protect privacy was met with an 
>> immediate
>> and emphatic insistence that privacy _must_ be protected - through 
>> stronger
>> laws, including increasing sanctions, for those who violated privacy 
>> rights,
>> if need be.
> Nobody here on the list has advocated violating any laws, but I 
> certainly would object against more restrictive laws regarding the use 
> of www/usenet content and I most definitely would want not relegate the 
> design of these laws from the larger citizenry to the research community.
>> In my mind, this requires us to go back to the expectations of the 
>> persons
>> we're dealing with as a starting point for developing our sense of 
>> ethical
>> obligation.  This approach is further discussed in the AoIR 
>> guidelines, if
>> anyone is interested in looking further into it.
> Most people who posted on this list have probably read that document. I 
> personally just happen to disagree with the "privacy-for-privacy's sake" 
> bias it contains.
> Thomas

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