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 In Articles, DataBlog, Features, Uncategorized

Data scientists, journalists, industry leaders, policy makers and others involved with big data are moving to lay the groundwork for ethics policies in the gathering, analysis, and use of big data, with the expectation of getting policies in place before government regulation. Elements of big data ethics include law, organizational principles, institutional statements, self-policing, technology, intelligent data use trackers, clear default rules for processing, and many other issues.

These discussions and policy frameworks are helping the data science industry in bringing to light the importance of high-level expertise in diligent, substantiated research, as well as thorough and accurate reporting, along with insightful and evidence-based visualization.

2014 was a big year for inquiry into ethics policy-making surrounding big data, from raising the key questions, to a number of industry conferences and policy meetings laying groundwork.

  • Jonathan H. King and Neil M. Richards framed key questions in Forbes’ tech section in March 2014, “the Big Data revolution raises a bunch of ethical issues related to privacy, confidentiality, transparency and identity. Who owns all that data that you’re analyzing? Are there limits to what kinds of inferences you can make, or what decisions can be made about people based on those inferences? Perhaps you’ve wondered about this yourself.
  • Data scientists were surveyed at JSM (Joint Statistical Meetings) in August 2014 (an annual gathering of statisticians), to gauge their thoughts on big data ethics, and the majority of data scientists surveyed support ethics guidelines for big data research. 
  • In the 2014 IBM Whitepaper “Ethics for big data and analytics”, Mandy Chessell discussed elements of the “ethical awareness framework”, which was developed by the UK and Ireland Technical Consultancy Group (TCG) to help people develop ethical policies for their use of analytics and big data. Chessell’s report focuses on accountability and accuracy, including substantiated data use, and making sure of accuracy, appropriateness, authority, and timeliness.
  • Last October, the Information Accountability Foundation published a white paper on “A Unified Ethical Frame for Big Data – Part A”, laying out a structure for addressing the ethics issues that are surfacing. Big data provides unprecedented opportunities to drive information-based innovation in economies, healthcare, public safety, education, transportation and almost every human endeavour. Big data also creates risk to both individuals and society unless effective governance is in place. The result of this initial assessment was that any ethics framework must address Beneficial, Progressive, Sustainable, Respectful, and Fair values, and that ultimately the use of data must take into account the benefits and risks to “the individual, for society as a whole, and for the parties conducting big data discovery and application.”  
  • Also in October 2014, the Data and Society Research Institute got together with civil rights and technology organizations and industry leaders in the first “Data and Civil Rights” conference to evaluate what is known and unknown about the intersection of data and civil rights in six domains: criminal justiceeducationemploymentfinancehealth, and housing. In the executive summary of what was learned, the focus was on transparency and accountability, and the urgency and importance of engaging and educating the general public regarding the issues surrounding ethics, privacy, civil rights and big data. 

In the end, these discussions and forums will lead to policies that determine the protocols and tactics for how data is collected, reported and used. Dr. Ann Cavoukian, privacy commissioner for the province of Ontario, coined the phrase “privacy by design” to propose that organizations make customer privacy a guiding principle, while collecting customer data.  Jeffrey F. Rayport, in the MIT Tech Review, indicated that tactically this can include giving visitors ways to block tracking, providing users the ability to set levels of privacy, and being open about when data is being collected, as well as giving visitors a choice of something in exchange for sharing their personal information.

It is important for anyone involved in the work of big data to stay on top of the progress regarding these issues. As possible, engage with the discussion to have an impact on the direction the ultimate frameworks and influence any policies will have.  As significant developments occur that impact the data science industry, Datassist will let you know.

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