What are the ethics of conducting research studies on digital products?
- A/B testing: A research technique where multiple versions of an app are shown to different groups of users, to test the effectiveness of a change.
MICHELLE: In 2012, Facebook conducted a week long research study on nearly 700,000 0:00 unwitting users who had not consented to a mental health experiment. 0:06 They filled one group's news feeds with positive messages, and 0:11 another with negative content. 0:14 At the end of the study, Facebook concluded 0:17 that the content had indeed influenced people to be more positive or 0:19 negative depending on their news feed content. 0:23 In an Atlantic article, 0:27 experts argued the study didn't violate Facebook's terms of service. 0:29 But it certainly didn't comply with the American Psychological Association's 0:34 ethical principles and code of conduct regarding consent and deceptive research. 0:38 Author and scholar Shoshana Zuboff cautions, "We can affect real world 0:44 behavior and emotions without triggering user awareness." 0:49 Chamath Palihapitiya, a former VP of growth at Facebook who scaled the social 0:54 network to millions of users, resigned from his position over ethical concerns. 0:59 He said the short-term dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created 1:05 are destroying how society works, no civil discourse, 1:09 no cooperation, misinformation, mistruth. 1:13 In the documentary, The Social Dilemma, he questioned the ethics of testing 1:18 small feature changes, calling them manipulative. 1:23 A/B testing is commonplace as software development these days. 1:27 A certain percentage of users are shown a tweaked interface 1:31 to test the effectiveness of a change, 1:34 while the remaining users are shown the usual interface. 1:37 When evaluating the ethics of user research, where should the line be drawn? 1:41 When should users be informed of the research? 1:46 It's difficult to determine hard rules. 1:49 Manipulating emotions and behavior for the worst is clearly unethical. 1:52 Otherwise, I value A/B testing as a tool for improving the user experience. 1:57 When conducting other forms of user research, such as user interviews, 2:02 refer to IDEO's Little Book of Design Research Ethics. 2:07 There's a link in the teacher's notes. 2:11 A few gems include: "Clarify expectations upfront, 2:13 get consent, and protect participants' data." 2:17
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