Is it ethical to use info from the internet for research use?Sunday, February 5th, 2012
As the joyous Facebook slowly takes over and ruins everyone’s life, forums overflow with discussion and just about everyone has a blog, the internet suddenly has a wealth of information on just about anything. People divulge their fears, opinions, views, and feelings on all kinds of subjects for all to see and do so behind the anonymity of their computer. What we must ask ourselves therefore is this; if someone posts a viewpoint, or opinion, or interesting conversation in a public domain where anyone can access it, is it okay for a researcher to simply come and take that data and use it in their own study?? I feel on many levels that yes, it is okay to use this information. If you put something in a public place then you are giving your consent for people to use that information. If a researcher quoted a discussion in a qualitative paper is it any worse than someone quoting that discussion in a blog? If anonymity is held then the ethical principle of privacy has been upheld. I do however see where there may be issues. If someone was posting on a support group discussion about an illness they have, this may contain some very personal and sensitive information and it could be suggested that it is morally wrong to almost expose that to people who would not normally read that information. Yes, the website is public but perhaps people go on there under the assumption that the only people who will read it are people who understand them and share similar personal experiences, not someone who is out to take their words apart and analyse them for scientific use. This is a subject matter which is difficult to answer. Perhaps if information is taken as a whole rather than individual quotes and examples then privacy won’t be invaded as much and less harm is being done because the research only talks about general themes around what they have read. A way around this problem is to open up specific forums where the researcher could ask people if they will willingly talk about what they want to know. This way the person knows exactly what their words are being used for. The internet is an amazing tool, with a wealth of free and easy to get to information, and this can be so beneficial for research as suddenly we are reaching people we probably wouldn’t be able to, and how amazing is that! It is important to discuss issues such as this though so that we have the freedom to use the internet without fear of our privacy being abused and our information being misused. I do however feel that public internet data, if used in an appropriate manner then it could really revolutionise how efficiently we can collect data.