Michael Zimmer has recently raised ethical questions about research utilizing publicly available information from sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Similarly, ethical questions have also been raised by a group of researchers who investigated exposure of personal financial information and personal health information on peer-to-peer or file-sharing networks.
The questions they discuss, within the context of securing Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval, included:
- Is the research of minimal risk to the participants?
- Are files on a peer-to-peer file sharing network public information?
- Is there a reasonable expectation of privacy, and is the expectation of privacy of individuals a relevant consideration?
- Is it necessary to obtain consent, and is it practicable to obtain individual consent a priori? and
- Can we notify the affected individuals that we have downloaded their personal information?
You can read their analysis of these ethical issues in the article:
Khaled El Emam, Emilio Neri, Elizabeth Jonker, Marina Sokolova, Liam Peyton, Angelica Neisa, Teresa Scassa. The inadvertent disclosure of personal health information through peer-to-peer file sharing programs. Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association, 2010; 17: 148-158.