Bendert Zevenbergen, Oxford Internet Institute presented a very watchable, and extremely interesting talk on the ethics of research in the global Internet. If you have the time, watching the video is well worth the investment in time.
There are real issues in the unexpected consequences of the Internet; we didn’t build this in the early days believing it was going to go global, or turn into a dependency on life-threatening outcomes like ambulance routing, power network management, or basic interpersonal communications. Bendert points out succinctly how easily we can fall into an ethical trap, exploring the Internet in the public space without a proper ethical risk review.
His examples include the use of known bugs to deploy test code into public devices without consent, the collection of public data such as Twitter without understanding the consequences for the producers, and the risks of exploring censorship by active tests inside the censoring economy.
Meredith Whittaker from M-Labs (A Google funded interdisciplinery open Internet experimental body) strongly supported Bendert from the floor of the meeting. I think it’s clear the ethical basis of experimentation is being understood more widely as an issue of note.
The Oxford Internet Institute continues to meet and discuss the problem in an interdisciplinary forum with philosophers and computer scientists coming together. This is a very good conversation which I think we should all reflect on. I’m going to keep following them.
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