Research Ethics and the Blackberry Project

Forbes privacy columnist Kashmir Hill recently published a profile of University of Texas-Dallas developmental psychology professor Marion Underwood's large-scale research project titled “The Blackberry Project.” The Blackberry Project is an ongoing longitudinal study examining teen behavior and sociability, which first recruited its subjects in 2003. Then, in 2009, the subjects (now entering 8th grade) were provided with BlackBerry devices with unlimited text and data plans paid for by the investigators. The devices were configured so that the content of all text messages, e-mail messages, and instant messages was saved to a secure server to be mined by the researchers -- over 500,000 messages a month are being archived. While the Blackberry Project appears to have been managed properly through the IRB rules and regulations, it highlights emerging ethical concerns with projects of this nature, including issues of consent, undue influence, and privacy & anonymity.