Published: Sept. 11, 2017

Casey FIesler

Casey Fiesler studies the intersection between law, ethics and social media.

Did you know researchers are reading and analyzing your tweets and Facebook posts in the name of science?

If so, how do you feel about it? If you feel unsettled, what would make you feel better?

What’s legal and what’s not in the age of big-data research? And even if it is legal, is it ethical?

These are some of the questions Casey Fiesler, an assistant professor in the Department of Information Science at CU Boulder, will explore as part of a multicenter, $3 million National Science Foundation grant announced this month.

The four-year, six-institution PERVADE (Pervasive Data Ethics for Computational Research) project aims to come up with guidance for researchers, policymakers and consumers around a burgeoning and at times controversial field so new it lacks widely accepted ethical standards.

“Thanks to the internet we now have this vast amount of information about human behavior that can help us answer very important questions,” says Fiesler, noting researchers mine everything from tweets to Instagram photos to publicly shared health data and comments on news articles. “This is great for science, but we have to make sure that the ways we go about answering these questions are ethical and take into account the privacy and ownership concerns of the people creating the data.”

Fiesler received more than $400,000 which she will use to assess user knowledge and perceptions of big-data research and its legal and ethical implications.

“As technology changes, ethical norms have to constantly evolve to keep up,” she says. “Just because data is easy to get doesn’t mean we should do whatever we like with it.”

Read more at CU Boulder Today