The emerging ethical standards for studying corporate data

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Microsoft scientists, in an article published this week in the Journal of Oncology Practice, demonstrated that by analyzing large samples of search engine queries, they may, in some cases, be able to identify internet users who are suffering from pancreatic cancer, even before they have received a diagnosis of the disease.

This is an example of extremely useful research performed by a private company using data that it collects about individuals. Such research faces an important challenge. The ethical review standards that govern academic research using human subject data frequently do not apply in the private context. Without such standards and safeguards, public confidence in research of this type will erode. In today’s big-data world, we need effective ethical review processes in the private sector, as well as in the academic one. Some companies are starting to respond to this challenge.

Read Jules Polonetsky’s and Dennis Hirsch’s full joint op-ed in Re/code