Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Seals together: anthropological confidentiality practices are ethical keys in this actual / virtual Harbin ethnography vis-a-vis identities

Harbin ethnography:

... In general, for the purposes of ethnographic ethics, I will treat actual (including actual name from spiritual name at actual Harbin, if I know them) and avatar identities as distinct, and seek consent for research, both actually and virtually.

While anthropological confidentiality practices are ethical keys in this actual / virtual Harbin ethnography vis-a-vis identities, I've tried to employ as many methods to ensure this as I can, especially given the relative openness of, and possibilities to record, the World Wide Web and virtual worlds. A key aspect of this is education and disclosure. For example, for you, the reader, to develop anonymizing practices in terms of developing avatar and email identities, for example, has great merit. While many social scientific researchers of the Web do engage in ethical research practices, the Web, companies, and applications, also have a history of not acting in the interests of their clients or end users' privacy (http://). While it is very sensible for virtual Harbin subjects, for example, to develop end user practices of anonymity - which the MIT-originating Tor/Vidalia project (, for example, has made possible for Web communication which in part involves changing your own Wb-surfing practices and involving proxy-servers - this isn't always possible in virtual worlds like Second Life. So, in this virtual world ethnography, while virtual Harbin avatar residents and visitors may well know “that anything they say can be recorded by Linden Lab (the company which produces Second Life), by residents nearby, or by a scripted object hidden on a piece of land, and that such recorded information” (Boellstorff 2008: 82), I'll post signs, and inform avatars, liberally about the importance, as well as how-to, protect their own privacy, as a form of virtual, ethical, ethnographic practice. For all of us, in general, to learn privacy and anonymizing practices - vis-a-vis language as well as computer languages - as a form of ethics, is part of what I hope to educate for in relation to actual and virtual Harbin ethnographic practices.

In addition to educating individual avatars, as well as people, about practices for their virtual and actual privacy, as ethnographic practice, I not only will combine identities, but also narratives, to further protect their identities, in the course of writing this ethnography, and potentially co-generating virtual Harbin. ...

( - January 26, 2011)

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