Digital technologies give researchers new opportunities to access the most personal thoughts of those who use them. The ethics and implications of using data from peoples’ everyday interactions have recently become a mainstream topic of concern (Lucivero, 2020). In some contexts, such as governance, it can be argued that algorithmically-generated decisions are valued over individuals’ and communities’ expertise (Danaher, 2016). As with other projects described in this book, our work is being carried out during the COVID-19 pandemic. The crisis has highlighted the ethical complications that occur when vulnerable individuals requiring information are surveilled in a rapidly changing environment. Currently, worldwide legislative changes are determining how data-intensive technologies, including forms of data collection and surveillance, are used. Recent history indicates that once the initial threat has passed, legislation remains and becomes the ‘new normal’ (Lodders and Paterson, 2020).
Organisations, including universities, are establishing mechanisms for collecting and managing stakeholder data, which will remain in place after the pandemic. The collected data will become part of the hidden curriculum, the subtle messages students receive about what an institution values, and the nature of the power relations inherent in its interactions (Kayama et al, 2015). In this chapter we outline and engage with the ethical practices involved in performing such data collection, with a particular focus on the use of chatbot transcripts.
We particularly highlight the impact of crisis scenarios on ‘information anxiety’ (Blundell et al, 2014) in undergraduate students and evaluate the potential of chatbots as a tool to improve information literacy. Chatbots can be used to enable individuals to seek information ranging from functional to personal, including information that may be sensitive or personal in nature. As students adapt to the new normal of education during crisis, individuals can suffer from information anxiety as they seek assurance to help deal with new and changing circumstances. In the case of the COVID-19 pandemic, these include increased digital learning, increased working off-campus, and increased social isolation. Information overload (Soroya et al, 2021) can contribute significantly to information anxiety as organisations seek to provide guidance and support across many different topics. This can result in confusion if it is difficult to search the information that a given individual prioritises. In times of crisis, the need for tools that increase information literacy and enable effective filtering becomes apparent.