Fall Facebook/OKCupid and Future of Research Tour

Sept. 18 Tweet Chat

By Michelle Meyer

I’m participating in several public events this fall pertaining to research ethics and regulation, most of them arising out of my recent work (in Wired and in Nature and elsewhere) on how to think about corporations conducting behavioral testing (in collaboration with academic researchers or not) on users and their online environments (think the recent Facebook and OKCupid experiments). These issues raise legal and ethical questions at the intersection of research, business, informational privacy, and innovation policy, and the mix of speakers in most of these events reflect that. 

The first, and most accessible, is a “tweet chat” today, from 1-2 p.m. EST, on “Research Ethics in a Modern World.” It’s being sponsored by the Milken Institute’s FasterCures, “an action tank driven by a singular goal — to save lives by speeding up and improving the medical research system.” Other participants are Susannah Fox (RWJF’s first Entrepreneur in Residence), John Wilbanks (a very interesting guy whose work, largely on empowering patients and research participants to share their data in ways that are consistent with their values, and bio defy concise description), and Margaret Anderson (FasterCures’s Executive Director).

Likely discussion topics include the impact of social media on research and research ethics; the ethics of A/B testing and similar behavioral testing of user environments (i.e., websites) by corporations, and who should be empowered to conduct research risk-benefit analysis (patients/participants? scientists? legal systems?). You don’t need to have a Twitter account to read the conversation, either as it unfolds in real time or at any time thereafter. Just point your web browser to this URL. But to ask a question or otherwise participate in the discussion (which is encouraged!), you do need a Twitter account.

On October 22, I’ll be at Harvard Law participating in a panel discussion of the Petrie-Flom Center’s latest anthology, “Human Subjects Research Regulation: Perspectives on the Future,” with Glenn Cohen, Holly Fernandez Lynch, and Barbara Bierer.

On December 4, I’ll be at Colorado Law participating in a day-long conference, “When Companies Study Their Customers: The Changing Face of Science, Research, and Ethics,” sponsored by the Silicon Flatirons Center for Law, Technology, and Entrepreneurship and the Tech Policy Lab at the University of Washington. Other participants include law profs Paul Ohm, Ryan Calo, and James Grimmelman, Princeton Center for Internet Technology Policy Director Edward Felten, FTC Commissioner Julie Brill, and UT-Austin psychologist Tal Yarkoni.

On December 5, I’ll be in Baltimore participating in a Meet the Authors lunch event at the annual PRIM&R conference with the editors and several other contributors to the aforementioned book.

And on December 6, I’ll be participating in a PRIM&R session on “Manipulating Emotions on the Internet: The Cases of Facebook, OkCupid,” with OHRP Director Jerry Menikoff, privacy and Internet research ethics scholar Michael Zimmer, and Berkeley Director of Research Subject Protection Rebecca Armstrong.

On April 13, I’ll be giving a seminar at Wharton in the Legal Studies and Business Ethics Speaker Series, in which I may present something related to these themes.

Many thanks to the organizers for including me in these very interesting events (interesting least of all due to my inclusion, needless to say), and I hope to see some readers at some of them.

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