App stores have made distribution of research apps to thousands of users incredibly easy. There is more user-generated content around than we can manage to analyze; millions of tweets, public status updates and shared locations are waiting for us. These are huge opportunities, but researchers now also run into some interesting ethical questions.
Procedures, regulations and ethics – especially in an international and intercultural setting – are unclear and the notion of informed consent is changing. Can we just use all data that is out there? Is someone’s tweet intended to be quoted in a research paper? How do we deal with permissions if we use data from users of freely available applications? Do we need to tell people about all our research plans? Is anyone downloading our app a participant?
Asking a million users for a signed consent form is not a feasible option. Notices and messages in apps telling people about our research plans will probably be skipped. If they are read, there is no guarantee they are actually understood. Sometimes researchers cannot even know who the people providing content for their studies are.
Not doing studies would be missing a huge opportunity, but a discussion is in order. Do we have added responsibilities if we log people’s actions? Can we always be sure there will be no adverse effects for our unwitting ‘participants’?
Join us for a discussion at the CHI2011 workshop we’re co-organizing in Vancouver, Saturday May 7th: ETHICS, LOGS, and VIDEOTAPE: Ethics in Large Scale User Trials and User Generated Content.
Position papers due January 14, 2011.
Co-organised by Donald McMillan, Alistair Morrison, Matthew Chalmers (Univ. Glasgow), Henriette Cramer, Mattias Rost (Mobile Life), Wendy Mackay (Univ. Paris Sud). (Update: previously involved Adam Greenfield unfortunately won’t make it to the workshop.)