I was in continuous disbelief as I read Zimmer's (2010) painstakingly precise smackdown of the "Taste, Ties, and Times" (T3) project's approach to research ethics. Wow. I just couldn't believe the hubris of the researchers. A point that really stuck out to me, was how the T3 researchers trumpeted how they got permission from the school and Facebook to access the data. Um, gee, don't worry about the actual students whose personal data you're snooping on. My god! I suppose when people are reduced to numbers, or thought of as simply data, then there is a greater likelihood that their concerns will not be considered.
I think the T3 case underscores how important it is to have outside perspectives check out your research. One of the researchers is quoted in Zimmer (2010) saying "we're sociologists, not technologists, so a lot of this is new to us" (p. 316). That realization should have instigated an attempt to get expert opinions on whether their privacy safeguards were sufficient. Instead, it is revealed that they did not consult any experts in privacy. Again--wow.
A lot of lessons to be learned from this. The T3 researchers would have been better off trying to learn from their mistakes, as opposed to arrogantly firing back at critics, saying that they did enough.
Zimmer, M. (2010). "But the data is already public": On the ethics of research in Facebook. In Ethics and Information Technology, 12, 313-325.