Data collection, ethical issues in | (2023)

Ethics in demographic data collection, or more generally in demographic research, has received little explicit attention in the population domain and no formal guidance from the main professional bodies. This contrasts with the treatment of ethics in anthropology, sociology, statistics and medical research. Ethical discussions in the population field have focused almost exclusively on the ethical dimensions of population policies and programs.

As a result, the available ethical guidance comes mainly from national and international professional bodies in related fields. The main concerns of professional organizations are the appropriate behavior of professionals and professionals towards others – students, employers and donors of research funds, research subjects or respondents, as well as the general public or society at large.

Applied to the collection of demographic data, the most relevant issues are (1) promoting the neutrality and objectivity of the data collection processes and results, including issues of professional competence and integrity, and (2) respecting the autonomy of the research subjects or respondents, including the protection of the respondents and the entire study population from potential harm.

Since official statistics produced by government sources, such as censuses or birth and death registration systems, are an important source of demographic data, national and international standards related to official statistics are also a relevant source of ethical guidance. However, these norms primarily address the behavior of governments and institutions and not the actions of individual practitioners.

Professional and Scientific Integrity

The American Sociological Association's Code of Ethics advises sociologists "to adhere to the highest technical standards that are reasonable and responsible in their act with honesty and integrity and to avoid making untrue, misleading, or undocumented statements...and to avoid conflicts of interest and." the occurrence of conflicts." TheUnited NationsThe Basic Principles of Official Statistics, the International Statistical Institute's Declaration of Professional Ethics, and the American Statistical Association's Ethical Guidelines for Statistical Practice provide similar guidance.

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Protection of respondents and other research subjects

The norms for confidentiality and the protection of human subjects include the succinct statement in the basic principles of official statistics: "Individual data collected by statistical offices for statistical surveys ... are to be treated in the strictest confidence and to be used exclusively for statistical purposes." The code of ethics of the American Sociological Association states that sociologists "have an obligation to ensure that confidential information is safeguarded" in order to protect sensitive information derived from research. Sociologists should also "keep themselves fully informed of all laws and regulations that may limit or modify guarantees of confidentiality. They determine their ability to ensure absolute confidentiality and inform research participants in advance of any limitations on that guarantee, where appropriate." The International Statistical Institute's Statement of Professional Ethics and the American Statistical Association's Ethical Guidelines for Statistical Practice establish similar ethical obligations.

The requirements that governments and other funding organizations place on their scholarship recipients are also relevant. Laws and other regulatory efforts are often designed to achieve many of the same goals as ethical standards; However, they are different approaches to misconduct and in certain cases they may differ. Accordingly, researchers must be aware of both the ethical and legal limitations relevant to their proposed research and data collection efforts.

Current norms and regulations for the protection of human test subjects were initially developed as a reaction to the Nazi medical experimentsconcentration campinmates duringSecond World War. Over the years, by simple extension, the problem area has expanded to both


experimental and non-experimental threats and was adopted from without significant changessocial sciencesresearchers in general. Therefore, the related protection focuses on protection against invasive interventions in the body or mind of the research subject, in particular through biomedical and psychological experiments, which threaten the physical or mental well-being of that subject. A key element of such safeguards is the general requirement that the voluntary,informed consentof each individual research topic must be obtained prior to beginning the research.

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Aside from the areas of experimental psychology and the work of some cultural anthropologists, virtually all demographics and relatedsocial sciencesResearch and data collection are minimally intrusive to the original biomedical model and its extensions. Certainly the primary purpose and nature of most such data collection is simply to collect minimally sensitive information with the intention of characterizing population groups rather than individual respondents. Indeed under the traditionalinformed consentParadigm, many demographic data collection activities would be categorized as "minimally invasive". However, the need to protect respondents from harm resulting from the information they provide places a responsibility on researchers to keep such information confidential. The inclusion of more sensitive health information and various biomarkers and anthropometric data (e.g. HIV status) in some demographic surveys requires greater protection of respondents.

In certain circumstances, information itself may pose real risks to human research participants and their families, or to other members of the community to which those respondents belong. As demonstrated, for example, by William Seltzer and Margo Anderson, information about individuals and their group membership obtained through population registration and other routine data-gathering activities has been associated with major problemshuman rightsAbuses such as genocide, forced migration and detention. Historically, the risks have had particularly severe repercussions for those in small, politically vulnerable groups or in groups that were otherwise the target of attacks. With DNA tests, the main risks lie in the sensitivity of the information obtained and not in the degree of invasiveness of the procedure, and that not only the individual test subjects are potentially at risk, but also others with similar genetic characteristics.

The level of risk associated with any effort or program to collect demographic data depends on many factors, including: the method of data collection, the study design, the population studied, the variables used, and the level and methods of analysis . Table 1 summarizes the factors that appear to have contributed to increased risks of abuse in the past.

Important as ethical considerations may be in promoting responsible collection of demographic data, other types of safeguards can also play a role in guarding against possible misuse. These include material guarantees, methodical and technological guarantees, organizational and operational guarantees and legal guarantees. Indeed, using multiple safeguards is perhaps the best defense against misuse of demographic data and population data systems, and a goal of ethical awareness is to ensure that proper attention has been paid to these other safeguards.

Ethical norms also help to dampen the zeal of those who promote and implement action and research programs and related demographic-gathering activities. These advocates or researchers are often so convinced of the importance and benefits of research and data collection that the resulting risks to others are minimized or ignored. In fact, some of the most serious ethical errors in research can be traced to a lack of awareness that the activity at hand poses an ethical problem at all.


See also: Anthropometrie;census;population register.


Annas, George J. and Grodin, Michael eds. (1992)The Nazi Doctors and the Nuremberg Code: Human Rights in Human Experiments. New York:University of OxfordPress.

Cultgen, John. 1988.ethics and professionalism.Philadelphia:University of PennsylvaniaPress.

Murphy, Timothy F. and Marc A. Lappe, eds. 1994.justice and theHuman genome project.Berkeley:University of CaliforniaPress.

Reich, Warren T., ed. 1995.encyclopedia of bioethics,revised edition.New York: Macmillan-Simon.

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Seltzer, William, and Margo Anderson. 2001. "The Dark Side of Numbers: The Role of Population Record Systems in Human Rights Violations."social research68: 2 (Sommer): 481–513.

Vanderpool, Harold Y., ed. 1996.The ethics of research involving human subjects: in the face of the 21st century.Frederick, MD: University Publishing Group.

Internet Resources.

American Society for Sociology. 1997. "Code of Ethics". <>.

American Statistical Association. 1999. "Ethical Guidelines for Statistical Practice." <>.

International Statistical Institute. 1986. "Professional Ethics Statement for Statisticians." <>.

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Wilhelm Seltzer


What are some data ethical issues? ›

In particular, privacy rights, data validity, and algorithm fairness in the areas of Big Data, Artificial Intelligence, and Machine Learning are the most important ethical challenges in need of a more thorough investigation.

Why is data collection unethical? ›

The first principle of data ethics is that an individual has ownership over their personal information. Just as it's considered stealing to take an item that doesn't belong to you, it's unlawful and unethical to collect someone's personal data without their consent.

What ethical issues should be considered while collecting new data online? ›

Participant privacy, confidentiality and anonymity. Participant privacy, confidentiality and anonymity were the most commonly reported ethical concerns. These concerns are applicable to internet research across all disciplines, not just those involving families and children.

What are the common errors in data collection? ›

The five most common are:
  • Population specification error.
  • Sample frame error.
  • Selection error.
  • Non-responsive error.
  • Measurement (observational) error.
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What is the most serious ethical concerns related to data? ›

Data ethics is concerned with the following principles: Ownership - Individuals own their own data. Transaction transparency - If an individual's personal data is used, they should have transparent access to the algorithm design used to generate aggregate data sets.

What are the 3 basic data ethics? ›

Businesses that apply the key ethics principles of fairness, privacy, transparency and accountability to their AI models and output can retain trust in how they use their data—and thus build greater goodwill and loyalty, which enhances their reputation and brand value.

What are the three 3 types of ethical issues? ›

There are three main types of ethical issues: Utilitarian, Deontological, and Virtue. Utilitarian ethics focus on the consequences of an action, while deontological ethics focus on the act itself. Virtue ethics focuses on the character of the person acting.

How can we prevent unethical data collection? ›

Tips to engage in ethical and legal research
  1. Do not collect personal or sensitive data if it is not necessary for the research task.
  2. Anonymize data from the start.
  3. Regulate access to particular groups, time frames or locations.
  4. Securely store the information.
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What are ethical issues in online research? ›

  • 1) Distinction between public and private.
  • 2) Concerns for children and other vulnerable groups.
  • 3) Responsibility to inform and obtain consent.
  • 4) Responsibility for confidentiality and anonymity.
  • 5) Sharing of data, open data and Big Data.
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What are the 4 major ethical issues in conducting research? ›

Results: The major ethical issues in conducting research are: a) Informed consent, b) Beneficence- Do not harm c) Respect for anonymity and confidentiality d) Respect for privacy.

What are the six ethical issues in research? ›

Ethical considerations in research are a set of principles that guide your research designs and practices. These principles include voluntary participation, informed consent, anonymity, confidentiality, potential for harm, and results communication.

How do you find ethical issues in research? ›

Before you start any study involving data collection with people, you'll submit your research proposal to an institutional review board (IRB). An IRB is a committee that checks whether your research aims and research design are ethically acceptable and follow your institution's code of conduct.

What is the most common ethical issue? ›

Harassment and discrimination are arguably the largest ethical issues that impact business owners today. Should harassment or discrimination take place in the workplace, the result could be catastrophic for your organization both financially and reputationally.

What is bias in collecting data? ›

What is bias in statistics? Statistical bias is a term used to describe statistics that don't provide an accurate representation of the population. Some data is flawed because the sample of people it surveys doesn't accurately represent the population.

What is bias when collecting data? ›

In a statistical sense, bias at the collection stage means that the data you have gathered is not representative of the group or activity you want to say something about.

Which error is more serious in collection of data? ›

Now, generally in societies, Type 1 error is more dangerous than Type 2 error because you are convicting the innocent person. But if you can see then Type 2 error is also dangerous because freeing a guilty can bring more chaos in societies because now the guilty can do more harm to society.

What is the importance of ethics in data collection? ›

There are several reasons why it is important to adhere to ethical norms in research. First, norms promote the aims of research, such as knowledge, truth, and avoidance of error. For example, prohibitions against fabricating, falsifying, or misrepresenting research data promote the truth and minimize error.

What are the five principles of data collection? ›

The basic principles of data collection include keeping things as simple as possible; planning the entire process of data selection, collection, analysis and use from the start; and ensuring that any data collected is valid, reliable and credible. It is also important that ethical issues are considered.

What is an example of data ethics? ›

Patient information, including names, medical record numbers, treatment and research information, as well as some Social Security numbers were among the stolen data devices. If your data is shared without your consent, it falls under data ethics breach, even if it was shared unwillingly.

What are the seven common ethical issues? ›

7 Common Ethical Concerns in Businesses Today
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  • Overpromising. ...
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  • Fraud. ...
  • Ethical Accountability.
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What are ethical issues in quantitative research? ›

These ethical norms include issues such as requirements for honesty, requirements for informed consent, anonymisation and storage of data, the right of access to data for participants and duty of confidentiality for all those who undertake research.

What are the disadvantages of online data collection? ›

Disadvantages of Online Surveys
  • Inability to Connect With People From Remote Areas. ...
  • High Chances of Survey Fraud. ...
  • Sampling Issues. ...
  • Response Bias. ...
  • Survey Fatigue. ...
  • Increase in Errors. ...
  • A Large Number of Unanswered Questions. ...
  • Difficult to Interpret the Sentiments Behind the Answers.
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How do you ensure ethical use of data? ›

Good Practice Principles for Data Ethics in the Public Sector
  1. Manage data with integrity.
  2. Be aware of and observe relevant government-wide arrangements for trustworthy data access, sharing and use.
  3. Incorporate data ethical considerations into governmental, organisational and public sector decision-making processes.

How do you handle data ethically? ›

Building a successful ethical data-use program
  1. Align on company vision and beliefs. Organizations need a shared vision and mission for what their data program will look like, tailored to their industry context. ...
  2. Determine data ownership and risk mitigation. ...
  3. Evolve culture and talent. ...
  4. Set up a data-ethics board.
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What ethical challenges are involved in protecting data? ›

An Ethical Approach to Data Privacy Protection
  • Freedom from unauthorized access to private data.
  • Inappropriate use of data.
  • Accuracy and completeness when collecting data about a person or persons (corporations included) by technology.
  • Availability of data content, and the data subject's legal right to access; ownership.

What are 3 ethical concerns regarding the Internet of things? ›

Subsequent sections consider particular ethical issues, including: informed consent (Section 2), privacy (Section 3), information security (Section 4), physical safety (Section 5), and trust (Section 6). Section 7 emphasizes that these ethical issues do not exist in isolation, but converge and intersect in myriad ways.

What are two ethical issues related to the Internet? ›

There are a variety of questions that fall under that term and increasingly new questions because the internet has some connection to every aspect of our lives.
  • Privacy. One of the most interesting ethical questions on internet ethics revolves around privacy online. ...
  • Big Data. ...
  • Net Neutrality. ...
  • Access to the Internet.

What are the ethical challenges of qualitative online research? ›

Two ethical issues in qualitative research include confidentiality, and the role of the researcher as a data collection instrument. When we use qualitative data collection techniques, we usually spend a lot of time with research populations. We engage people at the community level.

What are the five main ethical issues that must be addressed in modern research? ›

Five principles for research ethics
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  • Be conscious of multiple roles. ...
  • Follow informed-consent rules. ...
  • Respect confidentiality and privacy. ...
  • Tap into ethics resources.

What are the 7 principles of ethics in research? ›

In practice, these ethical principles mean that as a researcher, you need to: (a) obtain informed consent from potential research participants; (b) minimise the risk of harm to participants; (c) protect their anonymity and confidentiality; (d) avoid using deceptive practices; and (e) give participants the right to ...

What are the top 3 most important ethical principles in research? ›

Three basic principles, among those generally accepted in our cultural tradition, are particularly relevant to the ethics of research involving human subjects: the principles of respect of persons, beneficence and justice.

What are two important ethical issues raised by online research? ›

Two key issues raised by internet-based research are ethics approval and informed consent. While some guidance exists regarding the ethics and consent of internet-based research, and some institutions provide their own guidelines, there appears to be a lack of definitive national standards.

What are the ethical issues and data protection in online business? ›

Understanding these issues is critical when trying to develop a respected online brand.
  • Business Representation. ...
  • Intellectual Property Violations. ...
  • Information Security. ...
  • Product Quality. ...
  • Vendor Compliance. ...
  • Customer Service.

What are 5 unethical uses of technology? ›

Piracy isn't the only type of intellectual property that is unethically distributed by computer use. Competitors use any number of methods to gain access to proprietary information that other companies pay millions to develop.
  • Media Piracy. ...
  • Ransomware Attacks. ...
  • Identity Theft. ...
  • Financial Theft. ...
  • Intellectual Property Theft.

What are the 4 main ethical concerns that researchers face? ›

These include anonymity, confidentiality, informed consent, researchers' potential impact on the participants and vice versa.

What ethical issues are important to attending qualitative data collection? ›

Two ethical issues in qualitative research include confidentiality, and the role of the researcher as a data collection instrument.

What are ethical violations in research? ›

Mistreatment of research subjects is considered research misconduct (no ethical review approval, failure to follow approved protocol, absent or inadequate informed consent, exposure of subjects to physical or psychological harm, exposure of subjects to harm due to unacceptable research practices or failure to maintain ...

What are at least two ethical concerns you might face in collecting data in educational research? ›

It is further highlighted that, there are three areas of ethics which every researcher ought to consider, including participants' protection, research data confidentiality, and the avoidance of research subjects' deception (Fraenkel & Wallen, 2008).


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