What are Data Ethics?

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Data Ethics describe a code of behavior, specifically what is right and wrong, encompassing the following:

  • Data Handling: generation, recording, curation, processing, dissemination, sharing, and use.
  • Algorithms: AI, artificial agents, machine learning, and robots.
  • Corresponding Practices: responsible innovation, programming, hacking, and professional codes.

Data Ethics build on the foundation provided by computer and information ethics, but at the same time, they refine the approach endorsed so far in this research field by shifting the level of abstraction of ethical enquiries from being information-centric to being data-centric. For example, Data Ethics focus on third-party practices with individuals’ data, while information ethics span more broadly to media, journalism, and library and information science.

Data ethical misdeeds such as the leaks from Edward Snowden and the manipulation of Facebook data to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election are encouraging legal actions. National and international governments draft, publish, and enforce Data Ethics rules. Some examples include the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), and the Family Educational Rightsand Privacy Act (FERPA). In addition, individual states, regions, and provinces are also developing more expansive regulations around Data Ethics (e.g., the California Consumer Privacy Act).

Although organizations do not have the same jurisdiction as a government, various groups are coming together to provide sets of guidelines. For example, Bloomberg, BrightHive, and Data for Democracy are developing a code of Data Ethics called Community Principles on Ethical Data Sharing (CPEDS) to codify Data Ethics for Data Scientists.

At a local or corporate level, both Data Governance and legal counsel are responsible for overseeing compliance of and remediation for breaches in Data Ethics rules.

Other Definitions of Data Ethics Include:

Businesses are Interested in Using Data Ethics to:

  • Comply with regulations.
  • Prove themselves trustworthy.
  • Ensure fair and reasonable data usage.
  • Minimize biases and social inequities.
  • Develop a positive public perception.

Photo credit: Andy Dean Photography/Shutterstock

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