2022/9/28

Ethical considerations when employing fake identities in online social networks for research

Yuval Elovici, Michael Fire, Amir Herzberg, Haya Shulman

Science and engineering ethics 20, 1027-1043, 2014

Online social networks (OSNs) have rapidly become a prominent and widely used service, offering a wealth of personal and sensitive information with significant security and privacy implications. Hence, OSNs are also an important—and popular—subject for research. To perform research based on real-life evidence, however, researchers may need to access OSN data, such as texts and files uploaded by users and connections among users. This raises significant ethical problems. Currently, there are no clear ethical guidelines, and researchers may end up (unintentionally) performing ethically questionable research, sometimes even when more ethical research alternatives exist. For example, several studies have employed “fake identities” to collect data from OSNs, but fake identities may be used for attacks and are considered a security issue. Is it legitimate to use fake identities for studying OSNs or for …