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But there's a type of dating site scam that's far trickier to spot, and the people who operate it claim to be making thousands of dollars every month fooling vulnerable men.Business Insider obtained a PDF guide that is sold online for just £2.59.It was used by the Harvard researchers in the "Tastes, Ties, and Time" study, and it appeared again in 2010, when Pete Warden, a former Apple engineer, exploited a flaw in Facebook’s architecture to amass a database of names, fan pages, and lists of friends for 215 million public Facebook accounts, and announced plans to make his database of over 100 GB of user data publicly available for further academic research.In each case, including the latest OKCupid controversy, researchers were hoping to advance our understanding of a phenomenon by making publicly available large datasets of user information they considered already in the public domain.However, all the data found in the dataset are or were already publicly available, so releasing this dataset merely presents it is a more useful form.For those concerned about privacy, research ethics, and the rise of publicly releasing large data sets, this logic of "but the data is already public" is an all-too-familiar refrain used to easily set aside thorny ethical concerns.In my critique of the Harvard/UCLA Facebook study from 2010, I warned: The…research project might very well be ushering in "a new way of doing social science," but it is our responsibility as scholars to ensure our research methods and processes remain rooted in long- standing ethical practices.

Distinctions within the regulatory definition of "private information" – namely, that it only applies to information which subjects reasonably expect is not normally monitored or collected and not normally publicly available – become less clearly applicable when considering the data environments and collection practices that typify big data research, such as the wholesale mining of Facebook activity or public OKCupid accounts.As a result, it is difficult to understand with certainty what a user’s intention was when sharing information on a social media platform, and whether users recognize that providing information in a social environment also opens it up for widespread harvesting and use by researchers.This uncertainty in the intent and expectations of users of social media and internet-based platforms – often fueled by the design of the platforms themselves – create numerous conceptual muddles in our ability accept the justifications of "we have not accessed any information not otherwise available" or "data already public" in order to alleviate potential privacy concerns in big data research.When asked whether the researchers attempted to anonymize the dataset, Kirkegaard replied bluntly: "No.Data is already public." This position is repeated in the accompanying draft paper, "The OKCupid Dataset: A Very Large Public Dataset of Dating Site Users," posted to the online peer-review forums of , an open-access online journal also run by Kirkegaard: Some may object to the ethics of gathering and releasing this data.

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