There for the Reaping: The Ethics of Harvesting Online Data for Research Purposes


  • Sadaf Zia Western University
  • Celina De Lancey Western University
  • Priscilla Regan George Mason University
  • Jacquelyn Burkell Western University



Online social environments offer a rich source of data that researchers can harvest to gain insight into a wide range of social issues. This type of research is sometimes considered as observation of public behaviour, and therefore exempt from ethical review. This type of research, however, raises ethical issues with respect to the public/private nature of online spaces, consent, and anonymity in the online environment. This project examines research ethics guidelines for recommendations regarding the use of harvested online data, identifying best practices for researchers who engage in this type of research.

Les media sociaux offrent une riche source de données que les chercheurs peuvent récolter pour mieux comprendre un large éventail de problèmes sociaux. Ce type de recherche est parfois considéré comme une observation du comportement du public, et donc exempt de tout examen éthique. Ce type de recherche, cependant, soulève des problèmes éthiques en ce qui concerne la nature publique / privée des espaces en ligne, le consentement et l'anonymat dans l'environnement en ligne. Ce projet examine les lignes directrices en matière d'éthique de la recherche pour des recommandations concernant l'utilisation des données récoltées en ligne, identifiant les meilleures pratiques pour les chercheurs qui s'engagent dans ce type de recherche.

Author Biographies

Sadaf Zia, Western University

Sadaf Zia is currently a Master of Library and Information Science student at the University of Western Ontario. 

Celina De Lancey, Western University

Celina De Lancey is currently a Master of Library and Information Science student at the University of Western Ontario. 

Priscilla Regan, George Mason University

Priscilla Regan is a Professor in the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University. Since the mid-1970s, her primary research interests have focused on both the analysis of the social, policy, and legal implications of organizational use of new information and communications technologies, and also on the emergence and implementation of electronic government initiatives by federal agencies. She has published over fifty articles or book chapters, as well as Legislating Privacy: Technology, Social Values, and Public Policy and two co-edited books. She is currently a co-investigator on a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada’s eQuality grant exploring big data, discrimination, and youth.

Jacquelyn Burkell, Western University

Jacquelyn Burkell is an Associate Professor and (Acting) Vice-President, Research, at the University of Western Ontario. She holds a PhD in Cognitive Science from the University of Western Ontario. This background, including a focus on behavioural decision-making, informs her research, which examines how technological mediation changes social interaction and information behaviour. She co-leads a working group on AI governance and policies in the Autonomy Through Cyberjustice Technologies SSHRC Partnership grant, where her research focuses on accountability (explanatory mechanisms) and algorithmic bias. She is a co-investigator on the eQuality project, conducting empirical examinations of attitudes toward and experiences of behavioural tracking. 




How to Cite

Zia, S., De Lancey, C., Regan, P., & Burkell, J. . (2020). There for the Reaping: The Ethics of Harvesting Online Data for Research Purposes. Proceedings of the Annual Conference of CAIS / Actes Du congrès Annuel De l’ACSI.