Ethics at the core of the CEEDs project

Here is a guest blog post on ethical guidelines for the CEEDs project, written by CEEDs’ Coordinator, Professor Jonathan Freeman, and published on the website a few days ago:

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There have been some exciting few years for me working with all the project partners in CEEDs; working to develop new tools to make exploring multimodal representations of big data more fruitful, easier, and more intuitive.  And doing this by focusing these new tools on our own, as users, subconscious responses to what we explore.

So you probably won’t be surprised to hear from me that from the earliest days of planning the project proposal, my colleagues and I were at the same time motivated to understand what could be possible with a system like CEEDs, and acutely aware of the need to ensure that the project handles its ethical considerations properly.

I still remember long chats with my friends and colleagues Prof Luciano Gamberini (from the University of Padova) and CEEDs Scientific Director Prof Paul Verschure (from SPECS lab at Universitat Pompeu Fabra) when we were discussing the ethics of CEEDs even during the preparation of the proposal.

Even then, the project considered the question of ethics around systems such as CEEDs very carefully; and rightly so.  There are important ethical considerations both in relation to the experiments which are performed within the project, and in relation to the future exploitation of CEEDs technologies.

Recognising the importance of getting the question of ethics right in a project like CEEDs, an important year 1 deliverable of the project was focused on Ethical guidelines for R&D within the CEEDs project, and with regard to future use of CEEDs’ components.

The guidelines make explicit the importance of user research within the project gaining necessary approvals from local ethics committees for user research within the project.  These guidelines are in line with best practice for R&D and scientific research involving human participants in general. They require the informed consent of participants, the opportunity to withdraw from participation at any time without penalty, the provision of a full debrief after participation, and of course managing user data in line with best practice and requirements for data protection.

Looking at the deployment of CEEDs, CEEDs components, and CEEDs like technologies in the real world, the project has identified additional important requirements, which we group under the heading ‘transparency’.  Most elements of the requirements for transparency are common to many digital media products and services – for example, that prior to using any service users must consent to its use by opting-in with a clear knowledge of what they are opting in to, and that users are able to opt-out of using the service at any time.

Of course, for transparency, consent to use a digital service should not be hidden in lengthy and complex terms of use or usage agreements.   CEEDs is not yet at the stage of releasing its software and services publicly, and so for each study we run in CEEDs the consideration is managed by obtaining signed informed consent from participants.  Looking ahead, CEEDs will adhere to best practice in the methods it deploys to secure opt-in from users.

Another element of the transparency consideration which is also of relevance to other digital media products and services, and definitely of relevance to CEEDs, is that the service should reveal the basis of its operation to end users when end users wish to know this.  For example, if CEEDs is deployed to gauge user interest in an area of a big data set, the user should be able to request within the application a simple explanation of how CEEDs is making its inference at any point in time.  In many ways this is beyond the transparency provided by many very popular online services (think of social networks, or targeted advertising online for example).

Signifying the importance the project attaches to transparency, when it comes to public exploitation of CEEDs and its components, we plan to adopt the model of transparency of consumer communications originally developed by my team.  The model identifies Meaningfulness, Accuracy and Comparability as key dimensions of transparency which need to be considered and evaluated for consumer communications.  I presented this model of transparency at the International Standards Organisation Consumer Policy Committee (Milan meeting, May 2014) with a view to it forming the basis of a new standard for consumer information quality.

I will next be talking about ongoing work in my lab, and about CEEDs, at RE:WORK London 2014 (18th September;  So if you’ve read this and agree or disagree with any part of it, I’ll be happy to say hi, and have a chat over a cup of tea then.

In the meantime, follow us on Twitter ( and Facebook (!

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  • FET project

  • EC funded

  • Under FP7

  • Project details

    Project number: 258749
    Call (part) identifier: FP7-ICT-2009-5
    Project Start Date: 1st September 2010
    Project Duration: 48 month

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