reliable enough to detect potentially illegal material. University
management was approached, as
well as external and internal legal
personnel, in order to understand
the researchers’ legal position.
However, discussions did not yield
actionable guidelines beyond the
advice not to pursue the research
further. Another consideration
was the effect possible negative media publicity might have
on researchers’ reputations and
the university’s image. Even if
researchers do not actually break
the law, there may be a temptation for the media or conservative
political elements to sensationalize the story (see [ 6]). In this
scenario, universities would be
inclined to err on the side of caution, and would be hesitant to
support researchers who undertake risky projects. In view of the
above, it was decided that the collected data should be destroyed. A
promising project with potential
social impact was abandoned.
developed by leading researchers across the
United States. 2012; http://cra.org/ccc/docs/init/
5. Mills, E. Google’s street-level maps raising
privacy concerns; http://www.usatoday.com/tech/
6. Bainbridge, W. eGods: Fantasy Versus Faith.
Oxford University Press, Oxford, U. K., 2013.
7. California law documents: Child Exploitation
and Online Protection Centre regulatory framework ( http://ceop.police.uk/); Children Act 2004
contents); Computer Misuse Act 1990 (http://
Data Protection Act 1998 (http://www.legislation.
gov.uk/ukpga/1998/29/contents); The European
Convention on Human Rights ( http://www.hri.org/
8. Internet Society. Understanding your online
identity protecting your privacy. 2012; http://www.
Data in the wild provides
researchers with unprecedented
access to large naturalistic data-
sets, resources that were not
previously available. However,
significant methodological, ethi-
cal, and legal concerns arise. The
authors’ own experience points
to potential legal and ethical pit-
falls in engaging with such data.
Current ethical and methodologi-
cal frameworks do not adequately
address the gaps brought about
by the scale and nature of this
data. Because we are unsure
of the ethical and legal rami-
fications of working with large
datasets, there may be a “chill-
ing effect” on research as we act
conservatively to avoid pitfalls.
Laws may be untested in court
and difficult for the layperson to
understand (see [ 7] and sidebar).
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Chee Siang Ang is a lecturer in
the School of Engineering and
Digital Arts, University of Kent. His
main research interest lies in
social computing, specifically vir-
tual worlds, computer games, and
social networking. He is also very keen to investi-
gate the applications of these technologies in vari-
ous domains such as healthcare.
Ania Bobrowicz is a senior lectur-
er in digital arts at the University
of Kent at Canterbury, U.K. Her
research interests include art his-
tory, computer-mediated commu-
nication, and emerging societal
issues brought about by digital
technologies. She is a fellow of the Royal Society of
Arts and holds an M.Sc. in multimedia systems
(London Guildhall University) and an M. A. in
applied linguistics (University of Warsaw).
Diane Schiano is a user experience researcher specializing in
social, psychological, and design
implications of emerging patterns
of mediated cognition, communication, and connection. She has a
Ph.D. in experimental psychology
Bonnie Nardi is a professor at UC
Irvine and the author of
Ethnography and Virtual Worlds: A
Handbook of Method (with T.
Boellstorff, C. Pearce, and T.L.
Taylor, Princeton Univ. Press,
2012) and My Life as a Night Elf
Priest: An Anthropological Account of World of
Warcraft (Univ. of Michigan Press, 2010).
March + April 2013
© 2013 ACM 1072-5520/13/03 $15.00