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Researchers who investigate sensitive topics may face online harassment, social shaming, or other networked forms of abuse. In addition to potential impacts on the researcher’s reputation and mental health, fear of harassment may have a chilling effect on the type of research that is conducted and the capabilities of individual researchers.

This document is a set of best practices for researchers – especially junior researchers – who wish to engage in research that may make them susceptible to online harassment. We provide recommendations for academic institutions, supervisors, and individuals, including cyber-security guidelines and links to other resources.

We’ve also created a 2-page information sheet that researchers can give to university personnel to educate them about the realities of online harassment and what administrators can do about it.

The authors welcome feedback about this document. Please send suggestions and edits to riskyresearch at datasociety dot net.

Supporting Ethics in Data Research

teaching | 09.19.16

Emily Keller, Bonnie Tijerina, danah boyd


University campuses provide an ecosystem of support to technical researchers, including computer scientists, as they navigate emerging issues of privacy, ethics, security, and consent in big data research. These support systems have varying levels of coordination and may be implicit or explicit.

As part of the Supporting Ethics in Data Research project at Data & Society, we held workshops with twelve to sixteen student researchers,professors, information technology leaders, repository managers, and research librarians at a handful of universities. The goal was to tease out the individual components of ethical, technical, and legal support that were available or absent on each campus, and to better understand the interactions between different actors as they encounter common ethical quandaries.

Materials: sticky notes, scratch paper, pens, and markers
Downloads: Supporting_Ethics_Materials_Sept2016.zip

Case Study of a Technical Researcher: provides a fictional scenario involving a researcher who needs assistance navigating a number of obstacles during her technical research.

Data Clinic Model: facilitates a brainstorming session about the components needed for a drop-in clinic to offer peer and professional support.

Ethics Conversation: asks participants to link words, feelings, and thoughts to the word “ethics,” followed by a discussion.

Read More: For the results of this project, please see the final report, Supporting Ethical Data Research: An Exploratory Study of Emerging Issues in Big Data and Technical Research, which provides detailed findings.

Data Privacy Project

teaching | 08.31.15

Bonnie Tijerina, Bex Hurwitz, Seeta Peña Gangadharan, Nate Hill, Melissa Morrone

In collaboration with New America, the Brooklyn Public Library, Research Action Design, and the Metropolitan New York Library Council, Data & Society launched The Data Privacy Project to equip library staff with the skills to effectively support patrons around digital privacy and data profiling.

Seventy-five years after the American Libraries Association pledged to protect patron privacy, the Data Privacy Project helps libraries better prepare individuals and communities for the challenges of always-on, digitally networked, and easily surveilled lifestyles.

Inspiration for the project began in 2012. Research done in part with collaboration from Brooklyn Public Library found that frontline library staff required training and ongoing support to better respond to patron needs regarding digital privacy or data profiling issues.1 The Data Privacy Project aims to meet that need. With additional training and easy step- by-step resource guides and straightforward training materials, we believe that libraries will be more likely to live up to their professional commitment to protecting patron privacy.

As the Internet and its usage continue to influence and shape our lives, the issues of digital privacy and data profiling are central to policymaking and public debate. The extent of government surveillance programs, differential treatment of online consumers, and the need for protection of sensitive personal data have increased the urgency of addressing these matters.

Before 2015, it was rare to hear about professional development opportunities for library professionals in the area of digital privacy and data literacy. Today, there is much more awareness in the library world about privacy and surveillance concerns and how they affect communities of library users. However, digital privacy still does not feature prominently in the discussion, planning, and programming related to activities serving to bridge the ongoing digital divide, including at public libraries, which play a critical role in providing public access to the Internet. It is becoming more and more evident that libraries cannot afford to overlook digital privacy or data profiling when promoting digital inclusion.

The Data Privacy Project teaches NYC library staff how information travels and is shared online, what risks users commonly encounter online, and how libraries can better protect patron privacy. Its trainings help support libraries’ increasing role in empowering their communities in a digital world. Funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the project is led by a team of library professionals, researchers, tech experts, and community activists interested in the impact of technological advances on everyone, especially the most vulnerable populations in the U.S.

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