'Google Wants to Know Your Location': The Ethical Challenges of Fieldwork in the Digital Age


Information communications technologies (ICTs) like laptops, smartphones and portable storage devices facilitate travel, communication and documentation for researchers who conduct fieldwork. But despite increasing awareness about the ethical complications associated with using ICTs among journalists and humanitarians, there are few reflections on digital security among researchers. This article seeks to raise awareness of this important question by outlining three sets of ethical challenges related to digital security that may arise during the course of field research. These ethical challenges relate to (i) informed consent and confidentiality, (ii) collecting, transferring and storing sensitive data, and (iii) maintaining the personal security and integrity of the researcher. To help academics reflect on and mitigate these risks, the article underscores the importance of digital risk assessments and develops ten basic guidelines for field research in the digital age.

Research Ethics 14(4)
Sebastian van Baalen
Sebastian van Baalen
Assistant Professor of Peace & Conflict Research

My research interests include the dynamics of violence and civil war.