Posted by: kpokrass | April 9, 2014

Perception of privacy is key – ethics in online research

When conducting qualitative research on internet communities, researchers should take into consideration participants’ perception of privacy. While posting on the internet may mimic publishing or speaking in public forum, Eysenbach and Till state that “there are important psychological differences, and people participating in an online discussion group cannot always be assumed to be ‘seeking public visibility.” Web-based platforms can provide researchers with a wealth of information, but researchers must realize that that privacy of the participants or at least what participants perceive as private, come first.

Corporate business groups should also consider the “perception of privacy” that employees may have when posting comments on intranet sites. While it may be understood that views expressed at work are ultimately owned by the company, there should be an element of caution from corporate researchers when wanting to use  information found. As a gesture of respect for employees, corporate researchers should reach out to employees to obtain permission to use content and communicate to employees that internal forums could be used for research purposes. While the Eysenbach and Till article focuses mostly on ethical issues surrounding patient support groups, the same ethical considerations can easily be translated over to the corporate world.

Should the same ethical issues surrounding patient support groups, be considered with internal employee discussion boards? Or should employees assume their views and opinions are not private?

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