Bioethics Blogs

Big Brother Is Watching You

by Michael (Mike) Kraten, PhD, CPA, IRB Chair at Providence College

PRIM&R is pleased to share a post from Mike Kraten, a member of the PRIM&R Blog Squad for the 2014 Advancing Ethical Research (AER) Conference. The PRIM&R Blog Squad is composed of PRIM&R members who will blog here, on Ampersand, about the conference to give our readers an inside peek of what happened December 4-7 in Baltimore, MD.

All of the PRIM&R conference sessions educate their attendees. Many manage to enlighten them as well. A few, though, strive to provoke and even (gently) disturb attendees to think about research issues from new perspectives.

On Saturday, December 6, a panel discussion titled “Science on the Move: The Use of Mobile Technologies in Human Subjects Research” achieved all three of these goals at the same time. Nevertheless, it was the third goal, that of presenting themes that are both provoking and (again, gently) disturbing, that still has me thinking.

Why? Because Saul M. Shiffman, PhD, of the University of Pittsburgh presented examples of technologies that would have been easily embraced by “Big Brother” in George Orwell’s 1984. Most striking, for me, was a sensor-equipped shirt that measures physiological indicators of stress and transmits its data in real time for aggregation and analysis.

Dr. Shiffman noted that such practices, called “ecological momentary assessment” within the field, could also be considered “high-tech voyeurism.” Subsequently, during the question and answer period, an audience member returned to the issue by describing automobile insurance driving programs that require policy holders to place tracking devices in their cars to monitor their driving habits.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.