Ethical Dilemmas in Psychologists Accessing Internet Data: Is It justified?

Florence W. Kaslow, Terence Patterson, Michael Gottlieb

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


Many psychologists search the Internet for both personal and professional information. Although various guidelines have been proposed for psychologists regarding therapeutic services provided over the Internet, few address the ethics and efficacy of gathering information about clients, students, or employees on the web. As quickly as guidelines are written, new technologies create new challenges. With the advent of social networking sites and numerous free and paid data search engines, unique dilemmas have arisen. The ready access of voluminous personal information raises perplexing questions for clinician psychologists, instructors, supervisors, and employers. An overarching consideration addressed in this article is whether in the course of one's professional activities it is ethically appropriate to conduct intentional Internet searches for information about patients, students, or employees. We discuss ethical dilemmas such as right to privacy, trust, confidentiality, informed consent, boundary violations, and best interest of the client, student, or employee. Next we provide a list of some extant electronic sources of information and offer case examples. The article concludes with recommendations that we hope will generate further dialogue and research on these perplexing issues and provide guidance on balancing situationally appropriate flexibility with the need for adopting wise parameters of professional behavior in regard to social networking activities and Internet " investigations."

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)105-112
Number of pages8
JournalProfessional Psychology: Research and Practice
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1 2011


  • Boundaries
  • Ethics
  • Internet
  • Patient privacy
  • Professional practice
  • Trust.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)


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