[Air-L] research ethics world wide? (was Re: NYT story on academic facebook research)

Charles Ess cmess at drury.edu
Mon Dec 17 00:32:13 PST 2007

> Now my question for cross border scholars are the research ethics
> much different based on the privacy laws in Canada, the USA, Europe
> or Asia?
> Of course I am more interested in privacy law differences than the
> actual ethics. But I am curious if there is an effect from the laws
> on the ethics?

A starting point, actually, is the AoIR ethical guidelines for Internet
research (2002 - from the website) which, among other things, paid careful
attention to the relationship between diverse cultural expectations re.
privacy, data privacy protection laws, and research ethics.

Roughly, the E.U. has the most stringent data privacy protection laws - but,
until recently at least, nothing like the U.S. IRBs.  Research ethics, at
the risk of a wildly wholesale and overgeneralized statement, at least in
the northern countries, are learned and enforced more informally than
formally.  (Especially in Germany and Scandinavia, there is a prevailing
trust that people will do the right thing - and if they don't, the error can
be corrected more effectively through informal rather than formal channels.)

In Japan, China and Thailand, there is a nascent attention to Internet
research ethics - but shaded, as one might expect, by very different
traditions regarding the understanding of "privacy" (generally more negative
than in a West shaped by modernity and industrialization since the 1700s,
and, when positive, more collective-familiar than individual).
Comparatively limited data privacy protections exist - but the situation is
changing, in part as cultures, and thereby values/assumptions/beliefs re.
privacy, etc. hybridize (in part through the influence of our beloved
Internet ...)

Clearly, all of this is work very much in progress.  We heard from scholars
and researchers from around the globe at this year's AoIR panel on research
ethics, chaired by Elizabeth Buchanan (the chair of the AoIR ethics working
group).  Notes from that session should be online soon - and I would look
for more to come from the forthcoming _International Journal on Information
Research Ethics_ (the first issue will be online soon).
Interestingly, a highlight for me was to learn from our European colleagues
that U.S.-like IRBs were becoming more and more the norm for them as well.

In the meantime, the best single article I know of recently on
cross-cultural comparisons of this sort is Dan Burk's
Privacy and Property in the Global Datasphere, in S. Hongladarom and C. Ess
(eds.), _Information Technology Ethics: Global Perspectives_, 94-107.
(Hershey, PA: IGI Global, 2007.)

there's a ton more out there (including some of my own articles in _Ethics
and Information Technology_) - but I hope this is a helpful start!

What would be even better would be for our colleagues in different parts of
the world to report / comment on this - Elizabeth and I will take careful

On that happy thought,

- c. 

Distinguished Research Professor,
Global Studies Center <http://www.drury.edu/gp21>
Drury University
Springfield, MO  65802  USA

Guest Professor (fall, 2007)
Department of Media Studies
IT Park
Helsingforsgade 14
8200 Aarhus N
Office: (45) 8942 9219
Mobile: (45) 2986 8967

President, Association of Internet Researchers <www.aoir.org>
Co-Editor, International Journal of Internet Research Ethics
Co-chair, CATaC conferences <www.catacconference.org>
Professor II, Globalization and Applied Ethics Programmes

Exemplary persons seek harmony, not sameness. -- Analects 13.23

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