Ethics is the study of moral dilemmas and is routed in the ancient philosophical theories of Aristotle and Confucius. We have developed practical applications of these theories whenever rapid changes in society occur that give rise to moral and ethical dilemmas. Examples of such changes are industrialisation, medical advancements and a paradigm shift toward environmental sustainability. Throughout history, we have managed to mitigate these man-made risks to society through the development of new regulations, global standards, education and ethical frameworks.
Similarly, in the last decade, there have been rapid developments in the data technology space, including big data, social media, AI and machine learning. This had led to a revolution in data privacy regulation and the development of data ethics frameworks around the globe. These philosophical and legal developments increasingly place human interests at the centre of this cultural movement.
Data ethics describe standards of behaviour, encompassing the following:
- The ethics of data handling – how data is generated, recorded and shared sustainably and transparently
- The ethics of algorithms – how artificial intelligence, machine learning and robots interpret data without unfair bias
- The ethics of practice – codes of conduct for how to responsibly innovate in data technology
Ethical practices should consider not only what you intend to do but also consider how to protect against unintended consequences. Data ethics and innovation are not mutually exclusive but striking a robust balance between enabling innovation and respecting privacy and human rights is not an easy task.
Businesses are starting to recognise that they can use data ethics to increase compliance, build consumer and investor trust, protect against social bias and improve public perception. More visionary companies are therefore starting to embrace sustainable data use by positioning themselves within this movement – prioritising the development of privacy frameworks and recognising the value of individual data control.
However, it is not just about competitive advantage; sustainable data usage is also necessary for society as a whole. It plays a similar role as having robust environmental policies and practices – essential for company survival, but also for the planet’s welfare.
There is currently no one-size-fits-all solution for applied data ethics. We are on a journey of maturity and experimentation where regulation, technology and public perception are tested and adjusted on a daily basis.
Does your organisation have a clear moral stance on the appropriate use of data?