Big Opportunities or Big Problems?: Participants’ Views on Big Data
KeywordsBig data--Research--Moral and ethical aspects; Data mining--Public opinion;
Ethics and Political Philosophy
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AbstractAt the most recent convention of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, there were three symposia dedicated to using big data methodologies for social research. Despite this push for academic researchers to use social networking sites in experimental contexts, popular opinion often reflects negative attitudes towards researchers conducting big data experiments without acquiring fully informed consent from the users whose data is being used. Following a recent study published by Facebook (Kramer, Guillory & Hancock, 2014), concern was raised over how the researchers approached the consent process and managed the harm from perceived privacy violations (Ross, 2014). To more systematically ascertain how people feel about online companies using their data, 248 students recruited through the psychology participant pool and 224 mTurk workers indicated how okay there were with each of several types of sites (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, email) using their data for internal versus published research. Participants also responded to questions about their concerns with online safety and data security, belief in conspiracies, and general trust using established scales. Participants agreed that sites should allow their users the option to opt-out of research and should get permission from users before using their data for research. However, participants were not okay with sites using identifying information for research. Participants who were less bothered by researchers using their data were more trusting and less likely to hold conspiratorial beliefs. Researchers should take steps to bring their ethical practices into line with how participants view their data rights and online privacy.