Ethics and Consent Online

Ethics and Consent Online Along with the tremendous benefits of our ever-expanding online worlds has come troubling losses of privacy. This loss of privacy has opened the window for corporations, marketers, and researchers to peek in to record your actions in ways that raise new questions about ethics. A firestorm of controversy erupted in the summer of 2014, for instance, when scientists working with Facebook pub- lished a paper in which they revealed having conducted an experiment on nearly 700,000 Facebook users—without their knowledge—by manipulating their news feeds and recording how the manipulation affected users’ subsequent status updates. As the opening line of a New York Times article about the controversy put it, “To Facebook, we are all lab rats”. This characterization of Facebook took on even greater significance when evidence came to light of mas- sive attempts from Russia, as well as a political data firm called Cambridge Ana- lytics, to use Facebook to interfere with the U.S. presidential election in 2016 and to collect private data from millions of Facebook users.

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Technically, all Facebook users give consent to being “lab rats” to Facebook scientists when they agree to its terms of service, but in reality we all know that very few people pay attention to all that fine print when they begin to use a new app or service. Other Internet giants like Google routinely manipulate and measure what their users are doing, although typically the (stated) purpose is to improve the

One reason for the use of deception in an experiment is so that the participants will act more naturally when they are not aware of what is being studied. In these cases, it is especially important for the researchers to provide a full and thorough debriefing.

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