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Cambridge University rejected Facebook study over ‘deceptive’ privacy standards – The Guardian (Matthew Weaver | April 2018)0

Posted by Admin in on April 25, 2018

Exclusive: panel told researcher Aleksandr Kogan that Facebook’s approach fell ‘far below ethical expectations’

A Cambridge University ethics panel rejected research by the academic at the centre of the Facebook data harvesting scandal over the social network’s “deceptive” approach to its users privacy, newly released documents reveal.

Perhaps, like us, you’ve been wondering what happened with the research ethics review of the initial data collection by Kogan (who is a researcher based at a UK university). That rumination may have deepened given Mark Zuckerberg’s reported testimony to the US Congress committee. But this latest revelation turns the story in a surprising direction. The work was in fact denied ethics approval by the Cambridge research ethics committee!

A 2015 proposal by Aleksandr Kogan, a member of the university’s psychology department, involved the personal data from 250,000 Facebook users and their 54 million friends that he had already gleaned via a personality quiz app in a commercial project funded by SCL, the parent company of Cambridge Analytica.

Separately, Kogan proposed an academic investigation on how Facebook likes are linked to “personality traits, socioeconomic status and physical environments”, according to an ethics application about the project released to the Guardian in response to a freedom of information request.
The documents shed new light on suggestions from the Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, that the university’s controls on research did not meet Facebook’s own standards. In testimony to the US Congress earlier this month, Zuckerberg said he was concerned over Cambridge’s approach, telling a hearing: “What we do need to understand is whether there is something bad going on at Cambridge University overall, that will require a stronger action from us.”

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Facebook Says It Will Help Academics Use Its Data. Here’s How That’s Supposed to Work – The Chronicle of Higher Education (Nell Gluckman | April 2018)0

Posted by Admin in on April 19, 2018

There has never been a time when so much data existed about human behavior. What many of us buy, sell, like, dislike, read, and tell our friends is recorded on the internet thanks to sites like Facebook. To social scientists, the company is sitting on a gold mine.

Some of that information is public, but much is not, and the company’s reach is so vast most people don’t know how far it extends. Several research projects that use Facebook data have ended as high-profile privacy-breach scandals in part because subjects didn’t know they were being studied. In the most recent and possibly the largest data breach at the company, an academic harvested information about millions of Facebook users and shared it with Cambridge Analytica, a firm that advised the Trump campaign.

One might think that in the wake of that scandal, Facebook would lock academics out. That’s what Gary King, a political scientist at Harvard University who has pitched Facebook about opening up its data for research, expected. He met with Facebook officials right before the Cambridge Analytica news broke and, to his surprise, he got a call a few days later. They wanted him to study the company’s impact on elections.

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Ethical Challenges and Some Solutions for Field Experiments (Papers: Scott Desposato | November 2014)0

Posted by Admin in on April 13, 2018

The recent controversy over a field experiment conducted in Montana during an election has many political scientists debating the ethics of interventions in “the real world”. Much of this discussion focuses on the fact that the experiment may have violated electoral law and may not have had all required IRB reviews. However, absent some technical shortcomings, the study is identical to dozens of others that have been run all over the world. The bigger questions here are whether we can ethically run experiments that could affect millions of subjects and bystanders without their consent. I discuss some of the features that distinguish political science from other fields and over some suggestions for best practices in field experiments.

Desposato, S. (2014) ‘Ethical Challenges and some Solutions for Field Experiments’. Accessed 13 April 2018

3 Strategies for Accountable, Ethical Online Behavior Research – Medium (J. Nathan Matias | November 2017)0

Posted by Admin in on April 13, 2018

Help CivilServant develop ways to inform people about their participation in online research and hold us accountable

In 2014, after researchers worked with Facebook to test the effect of newsfeed adjustments on the emotional tone of people’s future posts, academics took a closer look at the ethics of online behavioral research, in the midst of a wider public debate over the power of online platforms in society.

A very interesting (made even more topical by the Facebook/Cambridge/Kogan media storm) discussion about consent, privacy and ethical review for social media and other web2.o research. We’ve included links to a trove of other resource items. These topics have huge impacts far beyond a news cycle and the human research ethics sphere.

Two ideas were central to these conversations: consent and debriefing. In consent-based models of research, people are asked in advance if they are willing to participate in the study. Individual consent often works best under controlled, lab-style studies or surveys and interviews, where it’s easy to decide which people are part of a study and which people aren’t. Debriefing is a process where people are told after the study. Debriefing is also a way to identify any unexpected, harmful effects that the researchers weren’t looking out for, so the harms can be addressed.
In field research, which tests ideas out in the world, individual consent and debriefing can be hard to acquire. For example, consider this study that tested the effect of lawn signs on voter participation rates. It wouldn’t be possible to obtain the advance consent of every single driver who passed by the signs; it would be impossible to predict exactly who would drive by. Even if you could obtain consent, you wouldn’t be able to show or hide the sign for people who hadn’t consented to the study. Likewise with debriefing: a researcher might be able to place a camera next to every sign in order to figure out the license plate, identity, and address of everyone who passed by, but in the effort to contact everyone in the study about ethics, the ethics procedure might become more risky and intrusive than the original study.

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