IRB Information

The following page provides information about the Pew Internet & American Life project that is likely to be needed by researchers seeking Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval for using Project data. Most telephone survey instruments are exempt from in-depth IRB review and are suitable for expedited review. Even if exempt, researchers may still be expected to file IRB paperwork at their institution.

GENERAL

The Pew Internet and American Life Project conducted this research. The Principal Investigator is Harrison “Lee” Rainie, Director, Pew Internet & American Life Project, 1615 L Street, NW, Suite 700, Washington, DC, 20036. The general information number for the Project is (202) 419-4500 and the fax number is (202) 419-4505. Email us here. We welcome comments and advice on the organization of data and other ORI material. Please keep us informed of publications that use either report analysis or raw data so that we can keep our research catalogue up to date. As Principal Investigator, Lee Rainie has ultimate responsibility for the protection of the rights and welfare of human subjects, the conduct of the study and the ethical performance of the project. You can read more about our mission here.

PROJECT RATIONALE

A significant number of Americans now report that the Internet is an important part of their lives and they act accordingly. Americans’ attachment to the Internet has grown along with the size of the online population. Subjects are asked to participate in research that improves our understanding about the role of the Internet in American life.

This research project is funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts. Because of the Internet’s rapid growth and increasing influence, we and the Pew Trusts believe there is a need for a project dedicated exclusively to examining the Internet’s role in people’s everyday lives. Unlike other research organizations that focus on e-commerce and other business applications on the Web, this project will study aspects of the Internet that have not received sustained attention from policymakers and scholars: its effect on children and families, communities, schools, the work place, and civic and political life. In sum, the Pew Internet & American Life Project will examine the social impact of the Internet in its Internet Life Reports.

FUNDING & PERFORMANCE

The grant was provided by the Pew Charitable Trusts. The contact person at the Pew Charitable Trusts is Timothy Durkin, One Commerce Square, 2005 Market Street, Suite 1700, Philadelphia, PA, 19103-7077. The survey research is performed by the Princeton Survey Research Associates and the principal contact there is Evans Witt, 911 Commons Way, Princeton, NJ, 08540. PSRA’s survey fieldhouses have not been certified by an IRB. The scientific merit of this research project is not subject to peer review by other agencies agency, sponsors, or committees. Princeton Survey Research Associates adheres to the Code of Professional and Ethical Practices established by the American Association of Public Opinion Researchers (http://www.aapor.org/Standards-Ethics/AAPOR-Code-of-Ethics.aspx).

Project research does not involve the use of private medical or educational records, the deprivation of physiological requirements such as nutrition or sleep, manipulation of psychological or social variables such as sensory deprivation, social isolation, stresses, mood induction, the use of deceptive techniques, presentation of materials that subjects might consider offensive, threatening, or degrading, or changes in diet or exercise.

No experiments are conducted on respondents, though different subpopulations are sometimes presented with questions worded in different ways. Surveys are always conducted in English, unless otherwise noted.

INFORMED CONSENT

Princeton Survey Research Associates do not seek informed consent from subjects. Before beginning a survey, staff ask to speak to an adult in the household, but do not ask for permission to conduct the survey, do not describe the duration of the survey, and do not explain the purpose of the survey. They do not meet with a potential subject, do not find out if the subject is capable of giving consent, and do not discuss the risks, benefits, discomforts or alternatives to participation. Interviewers do not explain that the survey is for research purposes only (not commercial use), the procedures the subject is to follow, nor the procedures for maintaining confidentiality. At the conclusion of the survey, respondents are told to contact PSRA for further information about the survey. Upon completion of the survey, respondents are not told how to follow up on project findings, the Pew Internet & American Life Project is not identified to respondents as the sponsor of the survey, and respondents are not informed that their responses may be shared. The full interviewer script is available in the questionnaire posted with each data set.

Participation is voluntary, and refusal to participate in any part of the research involves no penalty or decrease in benefits to which the subject is otherwise entitled, and the subject may discontinue participation at any time without penalty or loss of benefits. Subjects are rarely compensated or provided incentives for their participation, and notes on those rare incidents are made in the questionnaire for individual data files.

Once an interview is complete, Internet users are asked if they would be interested in participating in further surveys, and, if, so to volunteer their email addresses. There is no penalty for refusing this request.

Since this research involves no greater than minimal risk to the subjects, we waive the formal process of informed consent. This does not adversely affect the rights and welfare of the subjects, and the research would be impracticable otherwise. Even though we have decided to modify the usual process of obtaining informed consent, only your IRB can authorize you to accept data collected by this modified consent process.

SENSITIVE INFORMATION

No medical procedures are conducted. The project does collect some sensitive information, as defined by the Division of Human Subjects Protection, Office for Human Research Protection. The following kinds of potentially sensitive information has not been collected:

  • information about personal use of alcohol, drugs, or other addictive products;
  • information that could damage an individual’s financial standing, employability, or reputation within the community;
  • information in a subject’s medical record that could lead to social stigmatization or discrimination.

Specific datasets may include information about sharing copyrighted music, or researching personal mental or physical health information online, so some IRBs may consider this data among the following kinds of potentially sensitive information:

  • information about illegal conduct;
  • information about a subject’s psychological well-being or mental health.

 

SUBJECT POPULATION

In most cases, subjects are eligible for participation if they are more than 18 years old and are residents of the continental United States of America. Non-response in telephone interviews produces some known biases in survey-derived estimates because participation tends to vary for different subgroups of the population, and these subgroups are likely to vary depending on the subject of a particular questionnaire. In order to compensate for these known biases, the sample data are weighted in analysis. The demographic weighting parameters are derived from a special analysis of the most recently available Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey (March 1999). This analysis produced population parameters for the demographic characteristics of adults age 18 or older, living in households that contain a telephone. These parameters are then compared with the sample characteristics to construct sample weights. The weights are derived using an iterative technique that simultaneously balances the distribution of all weighting parameters.

Subjects are found by a random digit sample of telephone numbers selected from telephone exchanges in the continental United States. The design of the sample achieves this representation by random generation of the last two digits of telephone numbers selected on the basis of their area code, telephone exchange, and bank number.

Only persons under 18 are excluded from surveying, except when there are special surveys of younger Americans, in which case parental consent is obtained. Details on this process appear in the codebook to specific data files.

CONFIDENTIALITY

We make every effort to safeguard the identity of respondents. Respondents are assigned a case identification number and no data file is produced with names. We do not ask respondents’ names and do not know them from independent sources. If respondents volunteer their email address for further involvement in project research, such addresses are not shared. Although it is possible that confidentiality could be breached, leading to inadvertent disclosure of respondents’ answers, there is no way for any outsider to match those answers with their identities. We will not to use data for commercial purposes, and will not distribute it for commercial use.

For most reports, only aggregate data is presented. This means that Project staff does not describe a respondent’s individual answers. At times, respondents are given the opportunity in a survey to discuss their attitudes. Even if they quote respondents, Project staffers do so without identifying any individual by name.

Only the staff of the Princeton Survey Research Associates and the Pew Internet & American Life Project have access to raw data after it is gathered. In the six months following the survey period, processed data stripped of subject identifying information is made available to researchers who can demonstrate appropriate research needs that would be satisfied with access to the data. Please email the project here for application information. After six months, processed data stripped of subject identifying information is made available to the public.

CODEBOOK NOTES

Any variations from the above information are noted in the notes or questionnaires that are posted with particular datasets. Most data are collected by random digit dial recruitment. Where other recruitment methods are used, sample letters or emails are provided and the methods described in detail. These file codebooks also identify staff and external investigators associated with the research, variations in interviewer scripts, the number of subjects, and the age cohort of subjects.

CONCLUSION

An Institutional Review Board may require additional material, such as the codebooks and interviewer instructions that are attached to specific databases. The Pew Internet and American Life Project is an independent, non-profit research institute and there are no conflicts of interest between project staff, the research process, and the publication of findings.