Participant Anonymity in the Internet Age: From Theory to Practice

Qual Res Psychol. 2015 Apr 3;12(2):125-137. doi: 10.1080/14780887.2014.948697.

Abstract

Qualitative researchers attempting to protect the identities of their research participants now face a multitude of new challenges due to the wealth of information once considered private but now readily accessible online. We will draw on our research with family members of people with severe brain injury to discuss these challenges in relation to three areas: participant engagement with the mass media, the availability of court transcripts online, and participants' use of social media. We suggest strategies for managing these challenges via disguise, refining informed consent, and discussion with interviewees. In the context of a largely theoretical literature on anonymization, this article offers concrete examples of the dilemmas we faced and will be of illustrative use to other researchers confronting similar challenges.

Keywords: Internet/online; anonymity; coma; research ethics; serious brain injury.