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Objective: To identify and describe advantages, challenges, and ethical considerations of web based behavioural data collection.
Methods: This discussion is based on the authors' experiences in survey development and study design, respondent recruitment, and internet research, and on the experiences of others as found in the literature.
Results: The advantages of using the world wide web to collect behavioural data include rapid access to numerous potential respondents and previously hidden populations, respondent openness and full participation, opportunities for student research, and reduced research costs. Challenges identified include issues related to sampling and sample representativeness, competition for the attention of respondents, and potential limitations resulting from the much cited "digital divide", literacy, and disability. Ethical considerations include anonymity and privacy, providing and substantiating informed consent, and potential risks of malfeasance.
Conclusions: Computer mediated communications, including electronic mail, the world wide web, and interactive programs will play an ever increasing part in the future of behavioural science research. Justifiable concerns regarding the use of the world wide web in research exist, but as access to, and use of, the internet becomes more widely and representatively distributed globally, the world wide web will become more applicable. In fact, the world wide web may be the only research tool able to reach some previously hidden population subgroups. Furthermore, many of the criticisms of online data collection are common to other survey research methodologies.