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Zimmer, M. (2018). Addressing Conceptual Gaps in Big Data Research Ethics: An Application of Contextual Integrity. Social Media + Society, 4(2). https://doi.org/10.1177/2056305118768300


The rise of big data has provided new avenues for researchers to explore, observe, and measure human opinions, activities, and interactions. While scholars, professional societies, and ethical review boards have long-established research ethics frameworks to ensure the rights and welfare of the research subjects are protected, the rapid rise of big data-based research generates new challenges to long-held ethical assumptions and guidelines. This article discloses emerging conceptual gaps in relation to how researchers and ethical review boards think about privacy, anonymity, consent, and harm in the context of big data research. It closes by invoking Nissenbaum’s theory of “privacy as contextual integrity” as a useful heuristic to guide ethical decision-making in big data research projects.