Digital Lab

Recap: Talks and Workshop on Internet Research Ethics

In a well-attended afternoon, Charles Ess and Eva Payne gave talks about the state of the art of research ethics followed by a closed workshop session for students and researchers using social media data in their projects.

Charless Ess lectures while gesturing to his powerpoint on Ethical pluralism and cross-cultural awareness.
Jill Walker Rettberg

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When everyone has settled down with a sandwich, Charles Ess introduces the soon-to be released Internet Research Ethics 3.0 (IRE3.0). The first version was written and published in 2003. In 2012, IRE2.0 was published, responding to the rise of social media since 2005, the mobility revolution in 2008, and big data approaches since 2010. And now the IRE3.0 is almost ready for publication. Ess stresses that ethics is never external to our practice, we are all ethicists, including in our field of research. Having ethical problems means that there is no clear answer and we need to test our ideas with one another to get new insights. Ethical guidelines, then, are mainly a matter of guiding people to ask the right questions.

The main continuities in IRE3.0 are that it encourages researchers to consider ethics across stages of their research project, not just initial research design. For big data project, for example, the numbers of people included in studies are too high to ask for consent in the initial stage, but consent has to be granted by people who are cited in examples in the dissemination phase. Moreover, simple encryption could anonymize in the past, but with enough computational power, this can now be cracked. As later harm can occur when algorithms get better, we need to move from anonymization to de-identification. This leads to more overarching questions not only how we archive, store and delete data, but also of how much data we need. New trends include data minimization to avoid having more data than is necessary for the study.

Afterwards, Eva Payne on the role of the Norsk senter for forskningsdata (NSD) in data protection for research (personvernulempe). The NSD provides a legal assessment combined with ethical implications, based on NESH as well as GDPR and national provisions. Payne starts out by highlighting that NSD assesses projects, but does not give an official stamp of approval (but they do direct you to the right channels to get official permission). There are many intricacies of a NSD assessment, but the basic consideration comes down to whether or not the societal benefit or public interest outweigh the potential risk of the project. Here it is always important how public the used data is. This includes “forventet offentlighet”: the expectations of the internet users about their data, in which openly accessibly is not the same as public. Throughout three case studies, Payne further illustrates the examinations carried out by the NSD.

During the questions, the relationship between law and ethics is discussed. Ess stresses that technology is often ahead of the law, and that we need to think about ethical research before the law catches up.

After the talks, there is a workshop session for participants to discuss the ethical issues with their own research projects with Ess, Payne and Anne Mette Somby (NSD). As this is a closed session, it is not included in the recap of the event.