Is it Ethical to Log Users’ Actions in Software Engineering Experiments?

Amela Karahasanovic
InSITE 2003  •  Volume 3  •  2003
In recent years, there has been a significant increase in the number of empirical studies in software engineering that involve human participants. Such studies have heightened the need for considering ethical issues. Researchers have not only moral, but also pragmatic, reasons for treating participants in their studies ethically. They want to maintain their access to the data source and to get funding for their research. Thus, the researchers need to be aware of both ethical issues in general, and those that are specific to a particular research practice. This paper briefly describes our experiences with a tool that logs all actions of the users/participants (commands, keystrokes and mouse movements), and collects their comments on a web-based screen. The tool was used in two usability studies and raised ethical issues concerning the assurance of confidentiality and minimization of inconvenience. The paper also discusses a conflict that appeared during these studies, between ethical standards and the ensuring of experimental validity.
ethics, experiment, empirical software engineering, logging
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