closedistances (closedistances) wrote in cmanthropology,

Anthropological Ethics and Spyware

Anthropologists have an ethical obligation to those they study, which includes protecting their fieldnotes (American Anthropological Association 2000; LeCompte and Schensul 1999a: 190). When it comes to storing data, LeCompte and Schensul recommend that data be stored in safe places to prevent theft (1999b: 39-40). It is for this reason that Schensul et al. (1999) advise against "using computers in the field.... Portable computers and the fieldnotes stored in them are easily lost or removed with consequent loss of data and threats to confidentiality" (p. 116).

These are valid points, but they do no take the Internet into account. Spyware, defined as "software that tracks what we type, where we visit and what we do on our computers", has infected an estimated 67%-90% of PCs (Kidman 2005). If we are keeping fieldnotes on our computers, it would seem that we have an ethical obligation to make sure our computers are not among them. Unfortunately, no software is 100% effective at removing spyware (Adware Report 2005), but some are more effective than others. If effective software could conceivably prevent informant confidentiality from being compromised, then perhaps this should be included in our discussions of research ethics rather than just seen as a personal choice.


References Cited

Adware Report
2005 August Spyware Effectiveness Test Results. Electronic document: http://www.adwarereport.com/mt/archives/000049.html, accessed October 7, 2005.

American Anthropological Association
2000 AAA Statements on Ethics - Principles of Professional Responsibility. Electronic document: http://www.aaanet.org/stmts/ethstmnt.htm, accessed October 7, 2005.

Kidman, Angus
2005 Who's watching you? The Australian, SEPTEMBER 20. Electronic document: http://australianit.news.com.au/articles/0,7204,16651078%5E15382%5E%5Enbv%5E,00.html, accessed October 7, 2005.

LeCompte, Margaret D., and Jean J. Schensul
1999a Designing & Conducting Ethnographic Research. Edited by M. D. LeCompte and J. J. Schensul. 7 vols. Vol. 1, Ethnographer's Toolkit. Walnut Creek & Lanham & New York & Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
1999b Analyzing & Interpreting Ethnographic Data. Edited by M. D. LeCompte and J. J. Schensul. 7 vols. Vol. 5, Ethnographer's Toolkit. Walnut Creek & Lanham & New York & Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

Schensul, Stephen L., Jean J. Schensul, and Margaret LeCompte
1999 Essential Ethnographic Methods: Observations, Interviews, and Questionnaires. Edited by M. D. LeCompte and J. J. Schensul. 7 vols. Vol. 2, Ethnographer's Toolkit. Walnut Creek & Lanham & New York & Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
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