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What is Data Ethics?

What is Data Ethics?

According to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport; data ethics is an emerging branch of applied ethics which describes the value judgements and approaches we make when generating, analysing and disseminating data. This includes a sound knowledge of data protection law and other relevant legislation, and the appropriate use of new technologies. It requires a holistic approach incorporating good practice in computing techniques, ethics and information assurance.

Data is not just facts and statistics. It’s in everything we do.

Most people don’t think about the amount of data they generate over the course of a normal day. But, in fact, you transmit information every time you pick up your phone, get on your computer, strap on your smartwatch, play a video game, or use your debit card. Data about every one of us is gathered and stored by hospitals, insurance companies, schools, utility companies, courts, government agencies, banks, and more.

While this data certainly can and has been used for sinister purposes, it’s most often used by researchers to get insight into human behaviour, usually to improve our lives. But unfortunately, there are very few guidelines when it comes to the responsible use of this data.

What is in place?

GDPR changed how organisations use data last year, and we are now forced to think about the people behind that data. This was regulated after almost four decades of people using the internet. 

Are you being ethical with your data?

Ready data availability, cheap storage capacity, and powerful tools for extracting information from data have the potential to significantly enhance the way we live. However, as with all advanced technologies, this comes with the potential for misuse. Ethical constraints are needed to ensure that an appropriate balance is reached.

Every organisation holds large volumes of data and to use it effectively and ethically, we need to protect it. Acquiring and using the right and effective tools will help us feel more at ease but the nature of data can still change.

How do we improve ethical data collection, storage, and research?

Consent 
If we can’t be sure how our data will be collected, stored, and used, how can we achieve informed consent?

Privacy and Confidentiality 
They are not the same things. Privacy is regulated by law while confidentiality is a professional ethical obligation.

Ownership 
Because data is valuable, it’s very rarely destroyed. Privacy and confidentiality should prevent organisations or researchers from selling it or passing it on without our permission, but who really owns the data to begin with?

Governance and Accountability
If we know how our data is governed and who has custody of it, we can maintain security.

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