February 18, 2019

Archives for July 2014

On the Ethics of A/B Testing

The discussion triggered by Facebook’s mood manipulation experiment has been enlightening and frustrating at the same time. An enlightening aspect is how it has exposed divergent views on a practice called A/B testing, in which a company provides two versions of its service to randomly-chosen groups of users, and then measures how the users react. A frustrating aspect has been the often-confusing arguments made about the ethics of A/B testing.

One thing that is clear is that the ethics of A/B testing are an important and interesting topic. This post is my first cut at thinking through these ethical questions. I am thinking about A/B testing in general, and not just testing done for academic research purposes. Some disclaimers: I am considering A/B testing in general rather than one specific experiment; I am considering what is ethical rather than what is legal or what is required by somebody’s IRB; I am considering how people should act rather than observing how they do act.
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After the Facebook emotional contagion experiment: A proposal for a positive path forward

Now that some of the furor over the Facebook emotional contagion experiment has passed, it is time for us to decide what should happen next. The public backlash has the potential to drive a wedge between the tech industry and the social science research community. This would be a loss for everyone: tech companies, academia, and the public. In the age of big data, the interaction between social scientists and tech companies could yield a richer understanding of human behavior and new ideas about how to solve some of society’s most important problems. Given these opportunities, we must develop a framework within which this research can continue, but continue in a responsible way.
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"Privacy Comes at a Cost" – The U.S. Supreme Court’s Opinion in Riley v. California

In Riley v. California, a cell phone search-and-seizure opinion delivered by Chief Justice Roberts for a unanimous Court last month, the U.S. Supreme Court squarely recognized, and afforded special protection to, the ubiquitous use and storage of voluminous electronic data of many different types on mobile devices today. The opinion holds that, without a warrant, law enforcement generally may not search the content of a cell phone that has been taken from an arrested individual.

This landmark decision required a distinct departure from a trilogy of U.S. Supreme Court decisions permitting the search of property found on or near an arrestee under the “incident to an arrest” exception to the requirement of a warrant under Fourth Amendment jurisprudence. Those decisions were grounded in the interests of officer safety and preservation of evidence, a limited intrusion on individual privacy, and, in one decision, the unique characteristics of the arrest of an individual in an automobile.
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