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The web is full of many different internet sources; you can find written information everywhere, on websites, chat rooms, blogs and news feeds. However there are many ethical issues involved in using online data – such as consent.

The question is: Just because the information’s online and we have access to it (in most cases). Does it mean it is ethical to use this information? with or without consent?


Does publishing this information mean users are already giving consent? Making it ethical?

The following web link looks at a question regarding the amount of sites built each year – http://css-tricks.com/new-poll-sites-per-year/(Coyier,2010). Threads on this site discuss this matter (logging in needed) – written by online users, some anonymous like “Me Me ME” (Coyier,2010), some not. If I wanted to look at qualitative information regarding the job titles of the commenters, would it be ok?

This leads me to suggest that it is not ethical without the commenter’s permission, based on the fact that this information is of a personal nature – It’s their views and details. Others may support the ethical use of this information because it’s openly published for everyone to access. However, reading what people have said is different to using what they have said. Therefore ethically, consent should be requested before information is used.


Getting this consent can be hard as the person discussing the topic may wish to hide their name or not give consent when asked. Importantly, the article above states that consent is not given by lack of requested response. In addition, the commenter may or may not be able to give it and therefore consent maybe needed by the parents. However, their parents may not know about the information they are sharing online and the child may be inclined speak to their parents regarding the matter.


Recently, watching a tv show (The Anti-Social Network – http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01dwg1n) regarding bullying online, made me consider whether it would be ethical to use chat room data. Would signing into a chat room which discusses online bullying and using the data be ethical?

One chat room I found online was http://www.chathour.com/chatroom/ant-bullying. This chat room required you to log in, supporting the idea that it would be un-ethical to use this chat room information. Based on the fact that people are logging in to chat about bullying, not logging in to a chat room designed to collect research on the matter. The login factor makes the information more private and protected – http://wiki1.dovecot.org/LoginProcess .Suggesting that the users may want to chat with other users who may relate to their experiences, rather than just anyone. Therefore using their data could be considered as a privacy issue – if they are unaware. (Secton 3 – http://www.privacyrights.org/ar/Privacy-IssuesList.htm#onlineprivacy)

Evidence shows that in reality Information online is (mostly) accessible; however this information should not be used in research without the users being asked. Information such as comments which are open online could be argued as ethical to use because the person knows the information is online. If the site needs you to login, then the user of the information may wish for this information not to be directly seen by everyone – suggesting that gaining consent maybe even more ethically important. Overall, consent should be asked for when it comes to the use of chat room information and blog comments .Using sources online without consent, specifically when chartroom login is need, is therefore suggested unethical.


Coyier, C. (2010). New Poll: How many websites do you launch per year? Retreived from: http://css-tricks.com/new-poll-sites-per-year/

LJMU Data Protection Office: Provision of Consent to Process Personal Data and Data Protection Statements Retrieved from: http://www.ljmu.ac.uk/administration/administration_docs/DPA_The_Provision_of_Consent_to_Process_Personal_Data.pdf

Mills, K. (2008). Legal consent: when and how is it needed at school? Retrieved from: http://www.teachingexpertise.com/e-bulletins/legal-consent-when-and-how-it-needed-school-3749

Richard Bacon (2012) BBC THREE: The Anti-Social Network, Retrieved from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01dwg1n

(2012). Chat Hour, Retrieved from: http://www.chathour.com/chatroom/ant-bullying

Sirainen, T. (2010) Login Processes, Retrieved from: http://wiki1.dovecot.org/LoginProcess

Privacy Today: A Review of Current Issues, Retreived from: http://www.privacyrights.org/ar/Privacy-IssuesList.htm#onlineprivacy (Revised March 2012)


Comments on: "Is it ethically ok to use internet sources as data for qualitative studies?" (11)

  1. I think that using internet resources is ethically ok. If the source you are using is credited then it is their own opinion which should be referenced when using them. Like you said it is very hard to gain consent from internet sources and it would take a lot of time and effort to gain consent from every piece of work you read or reference. If someone has published their work online then this allowing people to use it. If they were not happy about others using it then they should make it more private. I agree with when using sources such as online chat that you should gain consent before using them for data as they are much more private and personal. However it is ethically ok to use things such as twitter where everyone can see what you have posted because by signing up to this public social networking your are allowing anyone to be able to access it. An example of this is Golder & Macy (2011) who collected data on peoples seasonal moods across the globe through using Twitter (http://www.sciencemag.org/content/333/6051/1878). I do not think that is study is unethical due to the fact that Twitter is so publicly accessible.

  2. I agree that it isn’t exactly ethical, but have to disagree with the comment above. Sure, if it’s someone’s research paper – credit them with their name etc. so that people know whose opinion it is. But could you imagine if a scientist quoted your name and opinion from twitter in a research paper? I would hate that and think it’s a complete invasion of privacy. Just because it’s on twitter doesn’t mean they have the right to use it. However if anonymity was used and it didn’t involve a direct quote (something like a mood, as was shown in the paper), then perhaps that is more ethical. I think with things posted on the internet as many as the ethical guidelines as possible should still be used, but I can understand that gaining consent can be difficult and time consuming. It’s a bit like observing the public in real life – I think if it’s a mood or a behaviour and the person’s identity will be kept anonymous to the point where they won’t even know they were used in the data collecting, then perhaps it’s ethical. But to quote someone based on what the wrote on the internet? No.

  3. I think if the data collected from the internet has been published on a site that requires the user to log in and make a conscious contribution then I think it would be acceptable to assume consent has been given to use the data in an annonymous way. The web allows for a wider choice of participants to be monitored than the average study which often makes use of the student population. With a more varied population the results would be different to those with limieted participant range (http://www.annualreviews.org/doi/full/10.1146/annurev.psych.55.090902.14160). Therefore it would be greatly beneficial to allow researchers to use internet sources of data, as long as the source of the data was aware that they were making the information public at the time of posting.

  4. Myers et. al (2010)[http://0-apps.webofknowledge.com.unicat.bangor.ac.uk/full_record.do?product=UA&search_mode=Refine&qid=2&SID=P1F7cB5LHN89lnPI6bF&page=1&doc=2] has estimated that currently, psychology graduates and those in training, are putting important ethics at risk such as confidentiality and breaching important APA guidelines; taking data from social networking websites immediately breaches anonymity and consent as far as her research suggests. Myers also claims that psychology majors using the internet for themselves, (such as being a part of facebook) is unprofessional and radical for someone in such an ‘important’ and responsible role. However, she does imply that the internet is forever helpful in our quest for knowledge, but believes we are using it incorrectly. Personally therefore, the APA and other psychological ethical associations should make a reliable ethical guideline when using the internet to further research; this should reduce the conflict of this issue.

  5. Relating to your question ‘does publishing this information mean users are already giving consent? Making it ethical?’, I believe that a vast amount of internet users are not aware that when they publish information, it can be accessed publicly. An example is the social networking site ‘twitter’. When you join this site and publish posts they are immediately available to anybody who types in the url of your twitter account – even individuals who do not themselves have an account. I find this crazy-why would a personal account be automatically public to other users you are not connected with? In such cases, I do not think it is ethical for information to be obtained assuming consent, when many individuals are unaware and underestimate by how many their publishings can be read. Here, consent is required because as described by the American Sociological Association, the participant’s behaviour is taking place in private without expecting to be observed by others than a select group.

  6. […] https://dsm1lp.wordpress.com/2012/04/11/is-it-ethically-ok-to-use-internet-sources-as-data-for-qualit… Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. Filed under Uncategorized | Leave a comment […]

  7. The internet is the only modern affordable to access a wide range of participants form any category you wish to study – old, young, male, female, student, retired they are all an accessible population through the internet. This gives a researcher access to varied results which could really change and challenge the landscape of psychology. Yes I understand there are risk such as confidentiality and not fully being able to trust a participant supply of information but there are loop holes to this such as password and age protecting. I think if Freed or some of the other father of psychology were still alive they would test the boundaries of the internet population source and use it to their advantage in their researcher therefore why should we as the new age psychologist do the same and really see what theory we can discover from it instead of being scared to broach the topic? Is that not why we follow APA guidelines so that during our investigations we can push boundaries yet still be ethically protected ?

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