When everything you see is data, what ethical principles apply? This paper argues that first-person digital recording technologies challenge traditional institutional approaches to research ethics, but that this makes ethics governance more important, not less so. We review evolving ethical concerns across four fields: Visual ethics; ubiquitous computing; mobile health; and grey literature from applied or market research. Collectively, these bodies of literature identify new challenges to traditional notions of informed consent, anonymity, confidentiality, privacy, beneficence and maleficence. Challenges come from the ever-increasing power, breadth and multi-functional integration of recording technologies, and the ubiquity and normalization of their use by participants. Some authors argue that these evolving relationships mean that institutional ethics governance procedures are irrelevant or no longer apply. By contrast, we argue that the fundamental principles of research ethics frameworks have become even more important for the protection of research participants, and that institutional frameworks need to adapt to keep pace with the ever-increasing power of recording technologies and the consequent risks to privacy. We conclude with four recommendations for efforts to ensure that contemporary visual recording research is held appropriately accountable to ethical standards: (i) minimizing the detail, scope, integration and retention of captured data, and limiting its accessibility; (ii) formulating an approach to ethics that takes in both the ‘common rule’ approaches privileging anonymity and confidentiality together with principles of contextual judgement and consent as an ongoing process; (iii) developing stronger ethical regulation of research outside academia; (iv) engaging the public and research participants in the development of ethical guidelines.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Barr, M., Signal, L., Jenkin, G., & Smith, M. (2013). Using SenseCam to capture children’s exposure to food marketing: A feasibility study. In Proceedings of the 4th International SenseCam & Pervasive Imaging Conference (pp. 50–51). New York, NY, USA: ACM.
Boesel, W. E. (2014). Facebook’s controversial experiment: big tech is the new big pharma. Time Magazine. Retrieved July 18, 2014, from http://time.com/2951726/facebook-emotion-contagion-experiment.
British Sociological Association. (2006). Statement of ethical practice for the British Sociological Association–visual sociology group (pp. 1–8).
Brown, I., & Adams, A. (2007). The ethical challenges of ubiquitous healthcare. International Review of Information Ethics, 8, 53–60.
Castaneda, C. E. (2014). Woman’s Google Glass Attack In SF Bar Spurs Huge Social Media Backlash. CBS Local. Retrieved July 29, 2014, from http://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/2014/02/26/google-glass-attack-against-social-media-consultant-spurs-huge-backlash/.
Cordelois, A. (2010). Using digital technology for collective ethnographic observation: an experiment on “coming home.”. Social Science Information, 49(3), 445–463.
Crawford, K. (2014). The test we can - and should - run on Facebook. The Atlantoc. Retrieved July 18, 2014, from http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2014/07/the-test-we-canand-shouldrun-on-facebook/373819/.
Dodge, M., & Kitchin, R. (2007). “Outlines of a world coming into existence”: Pervasive computing and the ethics of forgetting. Environment and Planning B: Planning & Design (1–26).
Doherty, A. R., Caprani, N., Conaire, C. Ó., Kalnikaite, V., Gurrin, C., Smeaton, A. F., & O’Connor, N. E. (2011). Passively recognising human activities through lifelogging. Computers in Human Behavior, 27(5), 1948–1958.
Doherty, A. R., Hodges, S. E., King, A. C., Smeaton, A. F., Berry, E., Moulin, C. J., & Foster, C. (2013). Wearable cameras in health: the state of the art and future possibilities. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 44(3), 320–323.
Dorsten, A.-M., Sifford, K. S., Bharucha, A., Mecca, L. P., & Wactlar, H. (2009). Ethical perspectives on emerging assistive technologies: insights from focus groups with stakeholders in long-term care facilities. Journal of Empirical Research on Human Research Ethics : JERHRE, 4(1), 25–36.
Dyson, L. E. (2012). anzMLearn Transactions on Mobile Learning. The Journal of the Australian and New Zealand Mobile Learning Group, 1, 1–31.
Farrar, T. (2013). Self-awareness to being watched and socially-desirable behavior: a field experiment on the effect of body-worn cameras on police use-of-force, Police Foundation, (pp. 1–14).
Google. (2014). Glass Platform Developer Policies. Retrieved July 18, 2014, from https://developers.google.com/glass/policies.
Gurrin, C., Qiu, Z., Hughes, M., Caprani, N., Doherty, A. R., Hodges, S. E., & Smeaton, A. F. (2013). The smartphone as a platform for wearable cameras in health research. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 44(3), 308–313.
Hayes, A. (2010). National snapshot: Current use of POV Technologies. In Mobilizethis 2010 Conference.
Jacquemard, T., Novitzky, P., O’Brolcháin, F., Smeaton, A. F., & Gordijn, B. (2014). Challenges and opportunities of lifelog technologies: a literature review and critical analysis. Science and Engineering Ethics, 20(2), 379–409.
Kelly, P., Marshall, S. J., Badland, H., Kerr, J., Oliver, M., Doherty, A. R., & Foster, C. (2013). An ethical framework for automated, wearable cameras in health behavior research. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 44(3), 314–319.
Lahlou, S. (2011). How can we capture the subject’s perspective? An evidence-based approach for the social scientist. Social Science Information, 50(3–4), 607–655.
Lahlou, S., Langheinrich, M., & Röcker, C. (2005). Privacy and trust issues with invisible computers. Communications of the ACM, 48(3), 59–60.
Leijdekkers, P., Brakel, J., & Gay, V. (2009). From the hippocratic oath to electronic data storage: ethical aspects for M-health projects in Australia, 115–123.
Mann, S. (2005). Sousveillance and cyborglogs: a 30-year empirical voyage through ethical, legal, and policy issues. Presence, 14(6), 625–646.
Mann, S., Nolan, J., & Wellman, B. (2002). Sousveillance: inventing and using wearable computing devices for data collection in surveillance environments. Surveillance & Society, 1(3), 331–355.
Marcu, G., Dey, A., & Kiesler, S. (2012). Parent-driven use of wearable cameras for autism support: a field study with families. In Proceedings of the 2012 ACM Conference on Ubiquitous Computing.
McNaney, R., Vines, J., Roggen, D., Balaam, M., Zhang, P., Poliakov, I., & Olivier, P. (2014). Exploring the acceptability of Google Glass as an everyday assistive device for people with Parkinson’s. Proceedings of the 32nd Annual ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems - CHI’14, 2551–2554.
Mégret, R., Szolgay, D., Benois-Pineau, J., Joly, P., Pinquier, J., Dartigues, J. F., & Helmer, C. (2008). Wearable video monitoring of people with age dementia: Video indexing at the service of helthcare. In 2008 International Workshop on Content-Based Multimedia Indexing, CBMI 2008, Conference Proceedings (pp. 101–108).
Meyer, M. N. (2014). Everything You Need to Know About Facebook’s Controversial Emotion Experiment. Wired. Retrieved October 15, 2014, from http://www.wired.com/2014/06/everything-you-need-to-know-about-facebooks-manipulative-experiment/.
Michael, M. G., Fusco, S. J., & Michael, K. (2008). A research note on ethics in the emerging age of überveillance. Computer Communications, 31(6), 1192–1199.
Muensterer, O. J., Lacher, M., Zoeller, C., Bronstein, M., & Kübler, J. (2014). Google Glass in pediatric surgery: an exploratory study. International Journal of Surgery, 12(4), 281–289.
Myers, J., & Frieden, T. (2008). Ethics in public health research: privacy and public health at risk: public health confidentiality in the digital age. American Journal of Public Health, 98(5), 793–801.
Nguyen, D., Marcu, G., & Hayes, G. (2009). Encountering SenseCam: personal recording technologies in everyday life. In Proceedings of the 11th international conference on Ubiquitous computing. ACM.
O’Connor, A. (2014). Google Glass enters the Operating Room. The New York Times
O’Connor, D. (2013). The apomediated world: Regulating research when social media has changed research. The Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics, 41,(2), 470–483.
O’Loughlin, G., Cullen, S. J., McGoldrick, A., O’Connor, S., Blain, R., O’Malley, S., & Warrington, G. D. (2014). Using a wearable camera to increase the accuracy of dietary analysis. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 44(3), 297–301.
Papademas, D. (2009). IVSA code of research ethics and guidelines. Visual Studies, 24(3), 250–257.
Prosser, J., Clark, A., & Wiles, R. (2008). Visual Research Ethics at the crossroads (Vol. 44, pp. 1–35).
Savage, M, and Burrows R. (2007). The coming crisis of empirical sociology. Sociology, 41(5), 885–899.
Urdapilleta, I., & Lahlou, S. (2012). Representation of self and body image among obese persons: a new approach. lse.ac.uk (pp. 2009–2010).
Walsh, L., Lemon, B., Black, R., & Collin, P. (2011). The role of technology in engaging disengaged youth: final report. Canberra: Australian Flexible Learning Network.
Wiles, R., Prosser, J., Bagnoli, A., & Clark, A. (2008). Visual ethics: Ethical issues in visual research. National Centre for Research Methods (NCRM).
Wiles, R., Coffey, A., Robison, J., & Prosser, J. (2012). Ethical regulation and visual methods: making visual research impossible or developing good practice? Sociological Research Online, 17(1), 1–19.
This paper benefited from presentation and feedback at the ‘First person perspective digital ethnography’ seminar series, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.[ES/JO21350/1]
About this article
Cite this article
Mok, T.M., Cornish, F. & Tarr, J. Too Much Information: Visual Research Ethics in the Age of Wearable Cameras. Integr. psych. behav. 49, 309–322 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12124-014-9289-8
- Digital research
- Ubiquitous computing
- Research governance
- Visual ethics
- Wearable cameras