Exploring the intricacies of software design for research ethics


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Data is arguably the hottest form of currency in the world, with zeros and ones still carrying more weight than ever before. But with all of our personal information turned into dynamite for enterprise solutions and the like, with a lack of consumer data protection, are we all being left behind?

Jonathan Zong, a Ph.D. candidate in electrical engineering and computing at MIT, and a subsidiary of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, thinks consent can be built into the design of the software that collects our data for online research. He created Bartleby, a system to debrief research participants and get their views on social media research that has involved them. By using Bartleby, he says, researchers can automatically direct each of their study participants to a website where they can learn more about their research involvement, see what data researchers have collected about them, and give feedback. notice. More importantly, participants can use the website to opt out and request deletion of their data.

Zong and his co-author, Nathan Matias, Ph.D., evaluated Bartleby by debriefing thousands of participants in observational and experimental studies on Twitter and Reddit. They found that Bartleby addresses procedural concerns by creating opportunities for participants to exercise autonomy, and that the tool enabled meaningful, values-driven conversations about participants’ voice and power. Here, Zong discusses the implications of their recent work as well as the future of social, ethical, and responsible computing.

Q: Many leading ethicists and policy makers believe it is impossible to keep people informed about their involvement in research and how their data is used. How has your work changed that?

A: When Congress asked Mark Zuckerberg in 2018 about Facebook’s obligations to keep users informed about how their data is being used, his response was effectively that all users have the opportunity to read the privacy policy, and that it would be too difficult to be any clearer. Tech elites often declare that ethics are complicated and pursue their goal anyway. Many have claimed that it is impossible to fulfill its ethical responsibilities to users at scale, so why try? But by creating Bartleby, a system for debriefing participants and getting their views on studies that involved them, we’ve built something that shows it’s not only very possible, but actually quite easy to do. . In many situations, letting people know we want their data and explaining why we think it’s worth it is the bare minimum we can do.

Q: Can ethical challenges be solved with a software tool?

A: Off-the-shelf software can really make a significant difference in respecting people’s autonomy. Ethics rules almost never require a debriefing process for online studies. But because we used Bartleby, people were given the opportunity to make an informed decision. It’s a chance they wouldn’t have had otherwise.

At the same time, we realized that the use of Bartleby brought to light deeper ethical issues that required substantive reflection. For example, most people just try to live their lives and ignore the messages we send them, while others respond with concerns that aren’t always even about research. Even indirectly, these examples help point out nuances that interest research participants.

How might our values ​​as researchers differ from the values ​​of participants? How do the power structures that shape researchers’ interaction with users and communities affect our ability to see these differences? Using software to provide ethics procedures helps bring these issues to light. But rather than waiting for definitive answers that work in all situations, we should think about how the use of software creates opportunities for participants’ voice and power challenges and invites us to think about how we address conflicting values.

Q: How does your approach to design help suggest a way forward for social, ethical, and responsible computing?

A: In addition to presenting the software toolour peer-reviewed article on Bartleby also demonstrates a Theoretical frame for data ethics, inspired by the ideas of feminist philosophy. Because my work extends software designempirical social sciences and philosophy, I often think about the things I want people to remember in terms of the interdisciplinary bridges I want to build.

I hope people will watch Bartleby and see that ethics is an exciting area for Technical Innovation that can be tested empirically, guided by a lucid understanding of values. Umberto Eco, a philosopher, wrote that “form should not be a vehicle for thought, it should be a way of thinking”. In other words, designing software is not just about putting ideas we already have into computer form. Design is also a way to create new ideas, to produce new ways of knowing and doing, and to imagine alternative futures.

The research has been published in Social Media + Society.

The code of ethics does not influence the decisions of software developers

More information:
Jonathan Zong et al, Bartleby: Procedural and substantive ethics in the design of research ethics systems, Social Media + Society (2022). DOI: 10.1177/20563051221077021

Provided by MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory

Quote: Q&A: Exploring the intricacies of designing software for research Ethics (2022, May 3) retrieved May 3, 2022 from https://techxplore.com/news/2022-05-qa-exploring-intricacies-software-ethics.html

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