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Ethical Considerations in Network Measurement Papers

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Network measurement—because it is typically at arm's length from humans—does not comfortably fit into the usual human-centered models for evaluating ethical research practices. Nonetheless, the network measurement community increasingly finds its work potentially affects humans' well-being and itself poorly prepared to address the resulting ethical issues. Here, we discuss why ethical issues are different for network measurement versus traditional human-subject research and propose requiring measurement papers to include a section on ethical considerations. Some of the ideas will also prove applicable to other areas of computing systems measurement, where a researcher's attempt to measure a system could indirectly or even directly affect humans' well-being.

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A conference program committee (PC) is usually the first outside independent organization to evaluate research work that measures network systems. In recent years, questions about whether the work submitted follows sound ethical practices have become increasingly common within PC discussions. We have experience with this situation as researchers and as members and leaders of PCs struggling with ethical concerns.


Cees de Laat

Very timely article. Since 2012 we (first in the Netherlands) have an ethical committee (ECIS) at the computer science institute at the University of Amsterdam. We recognised the impact of CS early on and after a number of cases it became clear that we needed a way to give the ethical issues a place in the governance. We looked at how this is handled in other sciences, for example the medical sciences. Since about 5 years we require the students of the master System and Network engineering to include ethical sections in their research project proposals and review those by a subcommittee consisting of the teachers and one member of the ECIS. We give them a course on ethical issues and responsible disclosure in the first week of their study. Also note the report of the Duch Academy of Sciences on ethical review boards in CS:
This report was for a significant part based on the experiences at the UvA.

Cees de Laat
prof. System and Network Engineering,
University of Amsterdam.

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