Ethics in usability engineering

Minocha, Shailey and Tzanidou, Ekaterini (2010). Ethics in usability engineering. In: India HCI 2010/Interaction Design for International Development, 20-24 Mar 2010, Industrial Design Centre, Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, Mumbai, India.



Usability practitioners frequently face ethical dilemmas during design and evaluation of systems [e.g. 1‐5]. Examples of such professional challenges or ethical dilemmas are: is informed consent required from fellow‐colleagues for usability activities being conducted within the organisation?; what if the client asks the usability engineer to use the data gathered on one study to draw inferences for another related study?; how can the usability data and personal data of the participants be held securely?; will the use of incentives to encourage participation create a bias in sampling or in participant responses?; is it ethical to use the video‐recording of a usability test in a presentation at a conference?; is it fine to include the results from a consultancy activity in a conference paper?; can personal correspondence over emails with a participant about a product or service be included in the organisation’s usability data for that product or service?. In this mini‐tutorial, we will present real‐life case studies of a variety of systems (web‐based, 3D virtual worlds) and domains (e‐commerce, e‐learning) to discuss the ethical concerns, and the measures that were taken to cater for the ethics. We will provide a pack to the attendees comprising of the following: web resources to ethics principles, codes of practice for conducting usability research, and guidelines available from professional organisations, samples of research materials such as consent form and project summary sheet that accompanies the consent form, information about tools and techniques for secure storage of data and to protect the privacy and anonymity of the participants, and bibliography related to ethics in Human‐Computer Interaction and usability.


1. C. E. Wilson. 2007. Ethical Dilemma Redux, Interactions, pp. 50‐51.

2. O. K. Burmeister. 2001. Usability Testing: Revisiting Informed Consent Procedures for Testing Internet Sites. In Selected Papers from the Second Australian Institute Conference on Computer Ethics vol. 7. Edited by J. Weckert. ACM International Conference Proceeding Series. Darlinghurst, Australia: Australian Computer Society, 2000, pp. 3‐9.

3. M. Catterall and P. Maclaren. 2001. Researching consumers in virtual worlds: a cyberspace odyssey, Journal of Consumer Behaviour, vol. 1, no.3, pp. 228‐237.

4. R.B. Molich, C. Laurel, C. Snyder, W. Quesenbery, and C.E. Wilson. 2001. Ethics in HCI. In CHI ‘01 Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems. CHI ‘01 Seattle, Washington, March 31 ‐ April 05, 2001. New York: ACM Press, pp. 217‐218.

5. W. E. Mackay. 1995. Ethics, lies and videotape....” In Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. Denver, Colorado, May 7‐11, 1995. Edited by I. R. Katz, R. Mack, L. Marks, M. B. Rosson, and J. Nielsen. Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. New York: ACM Press/Addison‐Wesley Publishing Co., pp. 138‐145.

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