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No Encore for Encore? Ethical Questions for Web-Based Censorship Measurement

21 Pages Posted: 26 Sep 2015  

Arvind Narayanan

Princeton University

Bendert Zevenbergen

University of Oxford - Oxford Internet Institute

Date Written: September 24, 2015

Abstract

A pair of computer scientists recently developed a clever way to measure Internet filtering and censorship worldwide, including countries such as China and Iran. Their system, named Encore, does this by executing a snippet of code on the web browsers of people who visit certain web pages — without the consent of those individuals. It caused a minor furor over research ethics in the computer networking and Internet measurement research communities.

We analyze this conundrum through the lens of established ethical principles, but keeping in mind the peculiarities of Internet and big data research: its global reach, large scale, and automated nature. We also comment on the unusual model that computer scientists use for ethical oversight. We hope that the questions we raise will be useful for researchers facing similar dilemmas in their own work, as well as for students of research ethics, both in technical disciplines and other fields such as law and philosophy.

Keywords: Internet censorship, research ethics, computer networking

JEL Classification: L86

Suggested Citation

Narayanan, Arvind and Zevenbergen, Bendert, No Encore for Encore? Ethical Questions for Web-Based Censorship Measurement (September 24, 2015). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2665148 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2665148

Arvind Narayanan (Contact Author)

Princeton University ( email )

Princeton, NJ 08540
United States

Bendert Zevenbergen

University of Oxford - Oxford Internet Institute ( email )

1 St. Giles
University of Oxford
Oxford OX1 3PG Oxfordshire, Oxfordshire OX1 3JS
United Kingdom

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