Volume 13 Issue 2 (2017)
Research Design

Ethical Issues in Designing Internet-Based Research: Recommendations for Good Practice

Shikha Gupta
Queen's University
Published January 29, 2018
  • online research,
  • internet-based research,
  • internet research ethics,
  • human research ethics,
  • ethics review,
  • social media
  • ...More


This article presents an overview of internet-based research, highlighting the absence of a standard terminology to define and classify such research. The label internet-based research or online research can cover a diverse range of research designs and methods, involving different degrees of ethical concern regarding privacy, transparency, confidentiality, and security. Although the basic principles of human research ethics (such as respect, integrity, justice, and beneficence) are still applicable in this context, interpreting and applying these principles correctly and protecting the interests of the research participants effectively are not easy to ensure. While the nature of the internet poses challenges of user authentication and confidentiality, the diversity of national laws and codes of ethics poses additional challenges. The article refers to relevant Canadian laws, with which the author is familiar. Finally, a set of recommendations are offered to mitigate the ethical challenges of internet-based research. These include ethical practices such as ensuring transparency while recruitment, considering participants’ expectations about privacy, ensuring legal compliance, using secure communication protocols, obtaining informed and knowledgeable consent, offering participants the opportunity to withdraw from the research and retract their data, and ensuring that data are not used for subsequent non-research purposes.