Data and Ethics

Let's open the debate

Published on September 09, 2018 by Taceo Limited

The concept of ethics in a data driven world is slowly simmering but has not quite raised its head above the parapet. Companies, large or small, have ever-growing access to data. There seems to be a growing worldwide need to regulate data about individuals and subject to these rules and regulations, companies have the breadth to use data at their discretion. That data is both personal and non-personal and much use is being made of it.

Can ethics and data be used in the same sentence?

Ethics may be defined as ‘the science of morals in human conduct’. When we relate that to data, it is clear that we are discussing a higher standard by humans who make decisions on how data is used.

With that definition comes a few questions: · Can the concept of ethical data use reside in the private sector* where the core focus of any business is to drive profit margins? · Should we consider a generally accepted ethical standard, the way that companies need to meet GAAP principles, or that the financial sector adheres to FCA regulation? · How can companies’ ethical views be governed?

Companies are legal entities that are run by individuals who make decisions on behalf of the company. These individuals have their own personalities, views, ethical and moral values in amongst other characteristics and these people are the eyes and ears of an organisation. So how do we ensure that a company run by individuals place data ethics at the core of their business operations.

It is worth acknowledging that decisions on how data is used in companies is rarely ever made at the C-suite level, so approaching this from a corporate governance perspective may not achieve the objective. Let’s face it, C-suite does not need to know the intimate details of how data is analysed, shared, stored, transferred, sold, purchased etc. in order to achieve success or profitability of its organisation.

Why we need to start talking about ethical data use.

Given the globalised cross-sector use of data, not to mention the EU’s desire to promote the free flow of non-personal data in its Digital Single Market strategy, it is clear that data has no borders.

With the continued advancement of technology in areas such as big data, IoT, AI and machine learning, the potential for mis-use of data grows exponentially in our data driven world. The balance of power has shifted to cloud-based technology-driven organisations which in turn drive convenience for individuals through savvy data analyses and use.

The debate is open

We are individuals with the capacity and capability to act reasonably within the construct of our own moral compasses. With that in mind, should a society that is data–driven place ethical data use on the boardroom agenda?

PS. Consider this - 20 years ago, most companies had not even heard of ‘sustainability’. Today companies that want to be taken seriously have a sustainability program. Data and Ethics - Be part of the discussion.

* Although this article refers to companies in the private sector, the strands of discussion extend equally to the public sector (government and law enforcement alike).