WHEN A ROGUE researcher last week released 70,000 OkCupid profiles, complete with usernames and sexual preferences, people were pissed. When Facebook researchers manipulated stories appearing in Newsfeeds for a mood contagion study in 2014, people were really pissed. OkCupid filed a copyright claim to take down the dataset; the journal that published Facebook’s study issued an “expression of concern.” Outrage has a way of shaping ethical boundaries. We learn from mistakes.
Shockingly, though, the researchers behind both of those big data blowups never anticipated public outrage. (The OkCupid research does not seem to have gone through any kind of ethical review process, and a Cornell ethics review board approved the Facebook experiment.) And that shows just how untested the ethics of this new field of research is. Unlike medical research, which has been shaped by decades of clinical trials, the risks—and rewards—of analyzing big, semi-public databases are just beginning to become clear.
1. (25/03/14) Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks
2. (01/04/14) Facebook fiasco: was Cornell’s study of ‘emotional contagion’ an ethics breach?
3. (10/05/15) Social media personhood as a challenge to research ethics: Exploring the case of the Facebook experiment
4. (10/05/15) Untangling research and practice: What Facebook’s “emotional contagion” study teaches us
5. (20/05/16) Scientists are just as confused about the ethics of big-data research as you
6. (17/06/16) Are Research Ethics Obsolete In The Era Of Big Data?