Online survey tools: ethical and methodological concerns of human research ethics committees

J Empir Res Hum Res Ethics. 2009 Jun;4(2):37-48. doi: 10.1525/jer.2009.4.2.37.


A SURVEY OF 750 UNIVERSITY HUMAN Research Ethics Boards (HRECs) in the United States revealed that Internet research protocols involving online or Web surveys are the type most often reviewed (94% of respondents), indicating the growing prevalence of this methodology for academic research. Respondents indicated that the electronic and online nature of these survey data challenges traditional research ethics principles such as consent, risk, privacy, anonymity, confidentiality, and autonomy, and adds new methodological complexities surrounding data storage, security, sampling, and survey design. Interesting discrepancies surfaced among respondents regarding strengths and weaknesses within extant guidelines, which are highlighted throughout the paper. The paper concludes with considerations and suggestions towards consistent protocol review of online surveys to ensure appropriate human subjects protections in the face of emergent electronic tools and methodologies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Computer Security / ethics
  • Confidentiality / ethics
  • Data Collection / ethics*
  • Education, Continuing / ethics
  • Ethics Committees, Research*
  • Guideline Adherence / ethics
  • Humans
  • Informed Consent / ethics
  • Internet / ethics*
  • Research Design
  • United States