Jun 182009
 June 18, 2009  Online

I haven’t had a chance to read this yet, but Michael Zimmer has a draft paper available based on his critique of the  “Taste, Ties, and Time” Facebook data release that is sure to be thought-provoking. Michael notes on his blog that he will be presenting his paper at the 8th International Conference of Computer Ethics Philosophical Enquiry in Corfu, Greece:

Recall that last fall, a group of researchers affiliated with the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University released a dataset of Facebook profile information from an entire cohort (the class of 2009) of college students from “an anonymous, northeastern American university.” While the researchers took good faith steps to preserve the anonymity of the source of the data (and, presumably, the privacy of the subjects), I quickly narrowed it down to 7 possible universities, and then with only a little more effort, identified the source (with some confidence) as Harvard College. All this without ever even downloading or looking at the actual data.

The researchers have since pulled the data out of circulation, and plan to make it available again this month, presumably with some of the anonymity and privacy concerns addressed.

The draft paper I am presenting, “But the Data is Already Public”: On the Ethics of Research in Facebook (PDF of draft), retells the circumstances around the T3 project and my partial re-identification of the dataset. It also describes some of the good faith efforts made by the T3 researchers to try to ensure the anonymity of the data, but exposes the limitations and errors in their procedures. Finally, it highlights the broader challenges for engaging in research on/in social networking sites that this case brings to light.

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