What is special about the ethical issues in online research?

Dag Elgesem
Seksjon for Humanistik informatikk / Department for Humanistic Informatics
HF-bygget, Sydnesplass 7
N-5007 Bergen

Abstract: In the analysis of the ethical problems of online research, there is much to be learned from the work that has already been been done on research ethics in the social sciences and the humanities. I discuss the structure of norms in the Norwegian ethical guidelines for research in the social sciences with respect to their relevance for the ethical issues of Internet research. A four-step procedure for the ethical evaluation of research is suggested. I argue that even though, at one level, the problems of online research are very similar to those we find in traditional areas of social scientific research, there still are some issues that are unique to research online. A general model for the analysis of privacy and data protection is suggested. This model is then used to characterize the special problems pertaining to the protection of privacy in online contexts, and to argue that one cannot assume a simple distinction between the private and the public when researching in such contexts.

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