As technology has advanced, many researchers have started conducting more research online. While virtual research opens up new possibilities, it also brings concerns over maintaining ethical practices and privacy. Elizabeth Buchanan discussed many different aspects to virtual research in interview about her book Readings in Virtual Research Ethics: Issues and Controversies.
Buchanan emphasizes that even when research is conducted virtually, the same ethical principles must be practiced as in face-to-face settings (“Readings in virtual research ethics”, 2004). People continue to have rights even when participating in research online, which includes rights to privacy. People expect that their information is going to remain private when they participate in research; however ensuring privacy online can present challenges. Buchanan discusses how researchers must take every precaution and make sure that participants know about the risks involved in participating in online research, which includes the possibility of hackers (“Readings in virtual research ethics”, 2004).
Virtual research also opens up ethical issues such as deception. Since subjects typically do not meet the researchers, it becomes possible for researchers to create entirely new personas to better their research (“Readings in virtual research ethics”, 2004). While researchers could be deceptive, it is also possible that participants could be deceptive. In addition to deception there are ethical concerns over minors participating in research studies online. Whenever minors are involved in research there are additional ethical concerns such as ensuring parental or guardian consent, what to do if a minor discloses concerning information, etc. (“Readings in virtual research ethics”, 2004).
I have participated in many virtual research studies including surveys, forums, product testing, and ongoing studies regarding consumer habits. The level of information collected about me was dependent upon the type of study. This is one way that researchers are able to help ensure privacy. Most surveys do not require a specific data that could identify the subject but does contain some classification questions such as male/female, age group, income level, and region. When I participated in studies that required more involvement any personal information was transmitted through secure channels and disclosures had to be acknowledged.
Virtual research opens up so many new avenues for researchers, because they are able to reach a broader base that may not have otherwise been available to them. At the same time it is difficult to ensure that subjects are providing truthful information. These concerns can affect the validity of the study. Unfortunately that is a risk involved with online research. The business research process is impacted by the opportunity of virtual research. While online research may reduce some costs, it opens up new liabilities for businesses as well. Because ethics is so important many “professional associations, government agencies, and universities have adopted specific codes, rules, and policies relating to research ethics” (Resnik, n.d., para. 8). Businesses considering or conducting virtual research must make sure they establish their own codes or policies or adhere to the standards set forth by others to ensure ethical practices.
Readings in virtual research ethics: Issues and controversies. (2004, January). Information Technology Newsletter, 15(1), 22-25. Retrieved April 24, 2012, from ProQuest Direct Database.
Resnik, David B., Thomas and Ben Worthen. (n.d.). What is Ethics in Research & Why is it Important? Retrieved April 25, 2012 from http://www.niehs.nih.gov/research/resources/bioethics/whatis/