Before we can answer the above question, let’s take a closer look at data ethics as a phenomenon.
What are Data Ethics?
According to founder of the Data for Good Foundation, Annemette Broch:
“The concept of data ethics cannot stand alone. Digital education is needed, with data ethics as an essential element. Technology has given us many new opportunities, but it moves quickly, and we have still not fully established what ethical online construction really means.”Annemette Broch, Founder, Data for Good
Annemette goes on to describe that for her, it is also about us as individuals not being aware enough of what it means to leave our data footprint behind:
“Education increases awareness. And we need both individuals and companies to become more aware of what it means to use digital communication channels and services such as social media.”
The need for data ethics is thus a phenomenon that has arisen from technological and digital developments, together with increased awareness of the data footprint each user leaves behind.
What is the story behind data ethics?
Ethics are concerned with what is good for individuals and for society. As new activities and behaviors develop, new ethics are formed and defined.
Technology has certainly created new activities and behaviors, and this is the reason the concept of data ethics exists and is becoming more and more important today. As technology evolves, new ways of storing and processing data are invented and the quantity of information that can be shared and stored is greater than ever. But in recent decades the changes have been so rapid that at times our ethics have struggled to keep up.
Let’s review the evolution of data ethics by explaining how the past 5 decades have influenced their development:
1970s: Computers in universities
The first computers are used as research databases in universities to search for information.
Impact on data ethics: Computers gain more and more power and can contain more data.
1980s: Algorithms for data analytics
In the 1980s, model-based algorithms were developed to explain phenomena, and data was adapted to the models. Two types of algorithm-based models are 1) classification of data and 2) regression analysis:
- Classification of data can be described as data that is divided into different classes. An example of the classification of data is a list of movies divided into genres.
- Regression analysis is a model used to find trends in the underlying data. An example of this in practice is an algorithm that suggests movies a person might be interested in based on a list of movies they’ve already seen.
Impact on data ethics: Algorithms identify patterns that give significance to online traffic.
1990s: Cybercrime, modems, and online forums
In the 1990s, the Internet makes its breakthrough and transitions from a tool reserved for educational institutions to being for everyone. The modem is launched and internet is now established as a household item.
As internet use increases, communication channels, data sources and especially forums are also becoming more popular.
Exponential growth in the number of internet users opens new opportunities for cybercrime, as data security is not yet well understood.
Impact on data ethics: The world is interconnected and we begin to communicate across borders, leaving data traces everywhere, but still largely unaware of the amount of data we leave behind.
The 2000s: Social media and piracy
In the 2000s, there is plenty of novelty in data and technology. Apple launches the first smartphone, the 1st generation iPhone; Facebook and Twitter are founded and the concept of social media arises.
At the same time, many people begin to use services that allow downloads of pirated songs and movies, without much thought or awareness of the consequences.
Impact on data ethics: New software and technology creates a whole new world to navigate and interact with, but there are a lot of unknowns, including how much personal data social media will collect, store and share. This will gain attention soon, but at this stage it is not something that is given high priority.
The 2010s: Geolocation and increased awareness
We begin to understand the importance of privacy and ensuring data collected is stored securely and not misused. GDPR legislation in 2018 puts an official stamp on the seriousness of IT security, data protection and privacy.
Impact on data ethics: The introduction of new legislation is a major milestone for the data rights and demands of private citizens.
What are good data ethics in 2020?
Data ethics have had a great impact on companies in recent years. We approached an expert in the field who shared his thoughts and conjectures on what good data ethics will look like in 2020.
Annemette Broch, founder of the Data For Good Foundation, believes that there should be a change in how we will apply the concept of data ethics going forward:
“Today we see much more focus placed on responsible business management, Better Business. Better Business involves the culture and values of an organization. Data ethics should be a fundamental part of that.”
Annemette goes on to describe why such a concept and phenomenon is necessary at all:
“In the past, when we still were not fully cognizant of how far a company could go in data collection and utilization, some went too far to promote their company’s economic growth and gain.”
That trend may’ve been natural, but it’s also worrying, Annemette believes. However, she notes recent changes in companies’ approach to data collecting. Much greater focus has been placed on human values and norms, and processing data responsibly.
“The GDPR underlines the seriousness of being accountable for the data you possess. Now there are clear rules and guidelines on how to handle data. I think that although many initially saw the legislation as a burden, in fact it is incredibly helpful by showing us how to handle data properly and at the same time create a successful and sustainable business. ”
Annemette explains that in order for us to learn how to act properly online, we need to be educated.
Data ethics in practice
But how do you apply data ethics as a company? How does one create a good culture around data and give appropriate emphasis to the responsibility that processing it entails?
A labeling scheme is one of the latest measures to ensure the proper use of data by companies. The Danish Business Authority has begun work on a prototype for the labeling scheme, with the intention of signaling that companies maintain high IT security and responsible data use. This will help create guidelines regarding data ethics for companies.
According to Annemette, we will also see even more focus in the future on responsible, sustainable companies. Here, too, Annemette has some perspectives and examples of what a company can do.
What data ethical considerations should you as a company make?
If you want to make sure your business has a fundamentally good data ethic, it’s a good idea to focus on the management and company culture as a whole:
“Data ethics are about culture. And culture is about leadership. It is also about awareness and visibility. Clear leadership is crucial to creating a healthy corporate culture and thus a basis for good data ethics ”Annemette Broch, Data for Good
In order for a company to exhibit good data ethics, Annemette believes that you need to create a culture where you put ‘man’ in focus (citizen / customer orientation) and create a foundation for employees can live up to this culture. It is managers who should set the example and give employees the desire and courage to create and maintain a good and healthy culture that encourages proper data ethics.
How to ensure good data ethics
One of the steps that can be taken right away is to create a good process for handling data that complies with the requirements of the Data Protection Act. One way to do this is by putting a system in place that sets up good procedures for processing your customers’, employees’, and partners’ personal information.
Connectid Business and Connectid Mail are both systems that help companies set your company up for secure data handling, giving your employees the tools they need to reduce the risk of unjustifiable data processing.
That’s a step forward on the road to good data ethics!
Want to learn more about data ethics?
Data ethics are relevant for all businesses and continue to gain importance. We’ve recently held courses on data ethics in collaboration with Danish HR, Legal Hero and Data for Good, helping companies create a solid foundation for good data ethics – and maintain it going forward.
If you want to learn more about data ethics and transparency in personal data processing, feel free to contact us. We are happy to help you find the right solutions to meet the challenges of ethical data management.