Harvard Researchers 'Mining Facebook' for Data on Student Group

Lora Bentley
Slide Show

Check out highlights from Lora's poll of industry experts on the topic of online security.

The great thing about social media platforms is that they provide a wealth of information. We can keep up with friends and coworkers and colleagues who are spread out geographically, send notes and organize gatherings with the click of a mouse. Then again, the bad thing about social media platforms is that they provide a wealth of information. Friends can keep track of your kids, your spouse, your job ... And so can other groups of people.


I've written before about law enforcement monitoring Twitter and other services to track suspects' activities, and about employers who make hiring and firing decisions based on what they find on Facebook. Sure, privacy implications are raised, but for the most part, I agree with those who say we need to be more careful about the type and amount of information we put "out there" for public consumption.



But a couple weeks ago, research into Harvard University's graduating class of 2009 was halted after officials discovered the researchers were using "semi-privileged student data culled from Facebook." nextgov reported then:

The dataset, which the undergraduates did not know they were participating in, was meant to be anonymous ... [T]he study was ostensibly based on publicly available data, but the student research assistants who gathered it were also Harvard undergraduates and so had access to some portions of their classmates' Facebook profiles that non-Harvard affiliated researchers would not have.

Writer Joseph Marks points out the university's institutional review board needs a crash course in social media, because the board, which is specifically tasked with ensuring research meets ethical standards, approved the parameters of the study before it began.

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