The Ethical Dilemma Behind Big Data


By Lionel Gibbons | October 14, 2014 | Big Data




While the phrase big data is certainly not new in either software design or business circles, the discussion surrounding the ethics associated with that information is a relatively new topic.

Technology's capabilities are evolving at such a rapid pace that people do not always have the time to reflect on the moral principles associated with the changes, particularly along the lines of privacy, confidentiality, transparency, and identity in regards to the use of data. Consider for a moment Facebook's acquisition of WhatsApp which currently boasts some 450 million users. In garnering WhatsApp, Facebook suddenly gained access to the mobile data of all WhatsApp's users. This is not to imply that Facebook has broken some ethical guideline, but the WhatsApp users should certainly be made aware that their data is being analyzed and for what purposes. 

In fact, big data and ethics do not have to operate separately from one another. While people's privacy must be respected, that can be done while analyzing their information. Simply alerting people that their data is moving amongst analytic systems and that their information is being retained are steps in the right direction. 

Shared information can also maintain a certain level of confidentiality. The healthcare industry, for instance, has become masters of sharing and analyzing patient data without breaking the legal confidentiality that is demanded. Plus, analytics should never seek to define the data's owners in ways that they themselves would not. Institutions, for example, should not be allowed to categorically define certain groups of people simply on the basis of the data collected.

There must also be a transparency to the analytics that has not existed in the past. The data's owner must not only have their privacy and confidentiality protected, but they must also be made aware of how and why their information is being used.

Big data is powerful because it offers an accurate glimpse into particular behaviors or beliefs. Those analyzing the data, however, must earnestly protect the subjects from which the data is derived. To discover how the ethical use of big data can positively impact your organization, please contact us today.

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