[Air-L] [SPAM: 7.500] Ethical approval for online data collection?

Lois Ann Scheidt lscheidt at indiana.edu
Tue Nov 20 06:01:33 PST 2007


I read the original post and found myself just blinking for several 
seconds, and seriously hoping it was a joke.  The idea that because 
someone might not understand the technology is a good excuse for 
avoiding an ethics process is, for me, just beyond words.  In every 
facet of research - work at the university level, the organizational 
level, or done independently - there is an implied educational 
component, so it is your job to educate your audience.

Beyond that point, why is the focus on the differences the technology 
brings rather then the similarities to other research in different 
venues?  Ethnics review systems have looked at similar research done in 
terrestrial environments - think phone books and university "freshman" 
registries, etc.  The technology is not the issue...a complicator yes, 
but not the main issue.

You should spend sometime studying published work that has used 
facebook and livejournal - to name a few - as sources of data for other 
studies.  Your basic question(s) may have been answered through means 
already vetted through an ethics process.

Finally, I will suggest you first review the facebook ToS before 
dwelling on the ToS of individual applications within their 
environment.  Companies like facebook are not individual actors under 
human subjects ethics concepts but they are collectives of individual 
actors or even sole proprietorships who deserve to be studied ethically 
no matter if the study is direct or indirect.  There has not been 
enough discussion of the ethics of trespassing where a "No Trespassing" 
sign has been publicly posted, and I humbly think that more discussion 
is needed. I fully expect we will eventually see litigation on this 
subject...something I would personally rather watch than being the main 
focus of the action.

I have to say that over the last year I've become more aware of and 
less open to research that comes without a statement of the projects 
compliance with the local ethics review systems.  While social research 
rarely rises to the level of some of the more often cited problematic 
medical and psychological research done before the advent of the review 
process, I have to question the personal superiority embedded in the 
idea that our research is never problematic, we can individually - and 
at all times - recognize any potential negative impact of our work, 
and/or because we do cutting edge tech research the newness of the 
field makes our work too hard to explain to someone outside the field.  
That sense of superiority is at the heart of most of the research that 
got us ethics review boards of all stripes.  Personally, I welcome 
review - now that I understand the process - because in most cases it 
had made my research stronger.

Lois Ann Scheidt

Doctoral Student - School of Library and Information Science, Indiana
University, Bloomington IN USA

Adjunct Instructor - School of Informatics, IUPUI, Indianapolis IN USA and
IUPUC, Columbus IN USA

Webpage:  http://www.loisscheidt.com
Blog:  http://www.professional-lurker.com

> On 11/20/07 10:42 PM, "Tomas Lin" <tomaslin at gmail.com> wrote:
>
>> Hi everyone,
>>
>> I am starting a research project that tries to explore the potential
>> of data collection and online surveys through Facebook Applications.
>>
>> Given that this is an independent project not founded by my university
>> and not attached to any faculty member, should I go through the ethics
>> process of getting approval and ethical review? How would this affect
>> the validity and publishing potential of this data?
>>
>> There are already applications on Facebook that claim in their terms
>> of services "This data could be shared with interested third parties".
>> And I think my application is no different. What would be the
>> advantages of getting ethics forms approved for this type of research?
>> Do journals look down on data that is not obtained through traditional
>> academic routes?
>>
>> I am concerned that since ethics review boards do not understand the
>> nature of this technology, and there are many dimensions of this
>> exploratory study that simply do not conform to the information being
>> required in forms from ethics boards. I am also concerned about many
>> of the potential limitations that will be placed on this research
>> project from ethics.
>>
>> Any guidance will be appreciated,
>>
>> Thank you,
>>
>> Tomas
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>
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