Is everything public on social media fair game?

Enlarge Your Consciousness in 4 Days, 4 Free - Card: generative infoaesthetic

Of course I would say not exactly, especially in the face of the  IBM’s Diversity in Faces project which I wrote about here and got a initial reply here. But its a interesting question which prompts the post, scientists like me are studying your tweets are you ok with that?

“Public” is the magic word when it comes to research ethics. “But the data is already public.” That was the response from Harvard researchers in 2008, when they released a data set of college students’ Facebook profiles, and from Danish researchers in 2016, when they released a data set scraped from OKCupid. The regulatory bodies that oversee research ethics (like institutional review boards at U.S. universities) usually don’t consider “public” data to be under their purview. Many researchers see these review boards as the arbiters of what’s ethical; if it’s not something that the boards care about, then it can’t be unethical, right?

Whether the data is public or not is important for ethical decision-making — in fact, it’s necessary.

There is a old-school hacker thing, that anything public is public and if you don’t want it public don’t put it online. But to be fair that idealistic view before the likes of cloud services broke the notion badly.

However there is a question for research which upholds its self above the likes of commercial companies.  I know being in the research field myself, research and the ethics boards are really strict with this all. To be fair I’m glad of this because I’ve seen too many bad uses of public data including semi-public (dating site data for example) and heck private data!

As researchers, we have a responsibility to acknowledge that factors like the type of data, the creator of that data, and our intended use for the data are important when it comes to using public information. These factors must inform the decisions we make about whether and how to collect data and to report findings. I hope the work that my collaborators and I are doing will help to inform best practices, so that, in the end, we can continue to contribute great science to the world while also respecting the people who share their data with us every day.

Absolutely!

Now can some tell IBM this too?

Author: Ianforrester

Senior firestarter at BBC R&D, emergent technology expert and serial social geek event organiser.

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