Knowing the difference between “public” and “private” internet spaces is important when using the internet and social media platforms as a source of research data. According to a Common Rule exemption criterion, “research uses of identifiable private information” (including information found online) are exempt from typical Common Rule protections, such as full board or expedited institutional review board (IRB) review, if such information is “publicly available” (45 CFR 46.104[i]).
However, there are no constraints on what types of public information qualify as exempt in this exemption criteria. The IRB’s approach to differentiating “public” from “private” internet spaces and ensuring adequate protections for posts that may be justifiably be considered private takes on gravity. In evaluating this type of research, IRBs can use a framework to identify different categories of online information.
To learn more about the framework for identifying different categories of online information, read the full article on Advarra’s website.