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Not to fan the flames on the social justice warriors.”I suppose I am one of those “social justice warriors” he's talking about. Rather, we should highlight this episode as one among the growing list of big data research projects that rely on some notion of “public” social media data, yet ultimately fail to stand up to ethical scrutiny.
The Harvard “Tastes, Ties, and Time” dataset is no longer publicly accessible. And it appears Kirkegaard, at least for the time being, has removed the Ok Cupid data from his open repository.
There are serious ethical issues that big data scientists must be willing to address head on—and head on early enough in the research to avoid unintentionally hurting people caught up in the data dragnet.
In my critique of the Harvard Facebook study from 2010, I warned: The…research project might very well be ushering in “a new way of doing social science,” but it is our responsibility as scholars to ensure our research methods and processes remain rooted in long-standing ethical practices.
While he replied, so far he has refused to answer my questions or engage in a meaningful discussion (he is currently at a conference in London).
Numerous posts interrogating the ethical dimensions of the research methodology have been removed from the Open open peer-review forum for the draft article, since they constitute, in Kirkegaard’s eyes, “non-scientific discussion.” (It should be noted that Kirkegaard is one of the authors of the article the moderator of the forum intended to provide open peer-review of the research.) When contacted by Motherboard for comment, Kirkegaard was dismissive, stating he “would like to wait until the heat has declined a bit before doing any interviews.
The final methodology used to access the data is not fully explained in the article, and the question of whether the researchers respected the privacy intentions of 70,000 people who used Ok Cupid remains unanswered.
I contacted Kirkegaard with a set of questions to clarify the methods used to gather this dataset, since internet research ethics is my area of study.
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