The Ethics of Online Controlled Experiments (A/B testing)
31 Pages Posted: 21 Nov 2022
Date Written: November 2022
Online controlled experiments, also known as A/B tests, have become ubiquitous. While many practical challenges in running experiments at scale have been thoroughly discussed, the ethical dimension of A/B testing has been neglected. This article fills this gap in the literature by introducing a new, soft ethics and governance framework that explicitly recognizes how the rise of an experimentation culture in industry settings brings not only unprecedented opportunities to businesses but also significant responsibilities. More precisely, the article (a) introduces a set of principles to encourage ethical and responsible experimentation to protect users, customers, and society; (b) argues that ensuring compliance with the proposed principles is a complex challenge unlikely to be addressed by resorting to a one-solution response; (c) discusses the relevance and effectiveness of several mechanisms and policies in educating, governing, and incentivizing companies conducting online controlled experiments; and (d) offers a list of prompting questions specifically designed to help and empower practitioners by stimulating specific ethical deliberations and facilitating coordination among different groups of stakeholders.
Keywords: A/B tests, Research Ethics, Digital Ethics, Governance, Applied Ethics
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