D&S Ethics Researcher Jacob Metcalf urges for new guidelines regarding ethics in internet research.
In the United States, for instance, studies using public data (which includes that purchased from a third party) generally do not count as human-subjects research because they don’t access private, identifiable information about people. They don’t need to be checked by an institutional review board (IRB) or require informed consent. Guidelines issued in 2013 add that researchers should sometimes consider seeking review — if a person incorrectly assumed that access to his or her public information was restricted, for example. But IRBs have no obligation to adopt these proposals, and different committees may come to different verdicts, says Metcalf.