The datafication of everyday life is rapidly transforming processes of data collection, analysis and application. However, university-led and industry-engaged research is often slowed or inhibited due to ethical concerns principally focused on issues of controlling the parameters of privacy, consent and risk. We argue that central to this problem are research ethics processes which oversimplify the increasing complexity of digital society and reassert deficit-based notions of youth. We begin by reflecting on the unintended consequences and limitations of particular ethical conventions in the context of digital research with young people. We then demonstrate how these played out in a case study on a participatory and industry-engaged project investigating the role of online campaigns for promoting the safety and wellbeing of young people. The project highlights four key areas of complexity which are relevant to digital research ethics: unknowability, organisational gatekeepers, ethical contradictions and legacy mindsets. We then discuss how a networked capability approach can help reorient the ethics of research with young people. We argue this offers a deliberative framework that can help work with the complexity of research in the digital society to achieve a more situated research ethics. Our aim is to promote young people’s agency in identifying and addressing dilemmas in the control and care of digital research with young people - and not simply on or for them.