There are serious ethical issues that big data scientists must be willing to address head on—and head on early enough in the research to avoid unintentionally hurting people caught up in the data dragnet.
In my critique of the Harvard Facebook study from 2010, I warned: The…research project might very well be ushering in “a new way of doing social science,” but it is our responsibility as scholars to ensure our research methods and processes remain rooted in long-standing ethical practices.
Data is already public.” This sentiment is repeated in the accompanying draft paper, “The OKCupid dataset: A very large public dataset of dating site users,” posted to the online peer-review forums of Some may object to the ethics of gathering and releasing this data.
However, all the data found in the dataset are or were already publicly available, so releasing this dataset merely presents it in a more useful form.
Michael Zimmer, Ph D, is a privacy and Internet ethics scholar.
He is an Associate Professor in the School of Information Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and Director of the Center for Information Policy Research.
Concerns over consent, privacy and anonymity do not disappear simply because subjects participate in online social networks; rather, they become even more important. The Ok Cupid data release reminds us that the ethical, research, and regulatory communities must work together to find consensus and minimize harm.
Numerous posts interrogating the ethical dimensions of the research methodology have been removed from the Open open peer-review forum for the draft article, since they constitute, in Kirkegaard’s eyes, “non-scientific discussion.” (It should be noted that Kirkegaard is one of the authors of the article the moderator of the forum intended to provide open peer-review of the research.) When contacted by Motherboard for comment, Kirkegaard was dismissive, stating he “would like to wait until the heat has declined a bit before doing any interviews.
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