Professor & Canada Research Chair in Innovative Learning and Technology at Royal Roads University

Tri-council guidance on using online public data in research


Posted on March 9th, by George Veletsianos in emerging technologies, NPS, open, scholarship. Comments Off on Tri-council guidance on using online public data in research

I am often asked whether there are Canadian ethics guidelines on the use of online public data in research. The  relevant section from the Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans is provided below. I believe that researchers should take further steps to protect privacy and confidentiality pertaining to public data, but with regards to accessing and using public online data, this is a start.

A sample project to which these guidelines may apply is the following:  The researcher will collect and analyze Twitter profiles and postings of higher education stakeholders (e.g., faculty, researchers, administrators) and institutional offices (e.g., institutional Twitter accounts). This research will use exclusively publicly available information. Private Twitter accounts (ie those that are not public and involve an expectation of privacy) will be excluded from the research. The purposes of the research is to gain a better understanding of Twitter metrics, practices, and use/participation.

 

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Retrieved on December 12 2014 from http://www.pre.ethics.gc.ca/eng/policy-politique/initiatives/tcps2-eptc2/chapter2-chapitre2/

REB review is also not required where research uses exclusively publicly available information that may contain identifiable information, and for which there is no reasonable expectation of privacy. For example, identifiable information may be disseminated in the public domain through print or electronic publications; film, audio or digital recordings; press accounts; official publications of private or public institutions; artistic installations, exhibitions or literary events freely open to the public; or publications accessible in public libraries. Research that is non-intrusive, and does not involve direct interaction between the researcher and individuals through the Internet, also does not require REB review. Cyber-material such as documents, records, performances, online archival materials or published third party interviews to which the public is given uncontrolled access on the Internet for which there is no expectation of privacy is considered to be publicly available information.

Exemption from REB review is based on the information being accessible in the public domain, and that the individuals to whom the information refers have no reasonable expectation of privacy. Information contained in publicly accessible material may, however, be subject to copyright and/or intellectual property rights protections or dissemination restrictions imposed by the legal entity controlling the information.

However, there are situations where REB review is required.

There are publicly accessible digital sites where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy. When accessing identifiable information in publicly accessible digital sites, such as Internet chat rooms, and self-help groups with restricted membership, the privacy expectation of contributors of these sites is much higher. Researchers shall submit their proposal for REB review (see Article 10.3).

Where data linkage of different sources of publicly available information is involved, it could give rise to new forms of identifiable information that would raise issues of privacy and confidentiality when used in research, and would therefore require REB review (see Article 5.7).

When in doubt about the applicability of this article to their research, researchers should consult their REBs.

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