Ethics and Big Data Collection

Harvey Morris All Things WOMM 0 Comments

As the volume of social information that data companies continue to collect on a daily basis skyrockets well into the petabyte range (Facebook alone records more than 500 Terabytes of data a day!), it's no surprise that issues of ethics and privacy disclosures have become critical and hot topics of discussion, not just within industry, but also in terms of government involvement. 

Ethics and Data

Amidst a myriad of discussions and publications like this about the topic, what it all boils down to is to responsibly know and set your data collection boundaries. Make sure it's clear to the general visitor what it is you're collecting and how you're going about doing it.  

Consider this excerpt from a ComputerWeekly.com post featuring Frank Buytendijk, an author and speaker on Data Management policy:

"In the realm of business analytics, 'big data' approaches that say, 'let's gather all we can, then see what we can do with it' are breeding moral hazards.

The old data warehousing model set its own constraints. You build a model of the business, load it with data and derive BI reports. Those borders have disappeared, and privacy issues are abounding."

In essence, don't just collect data for the sake of collecting data. Have a defined purpose to it. Then, in doing so, mitigate the risks of improperly collecting and using the data, and ultimately betraying the trust of the general public.

Here are two key actions I love seeing companies do to pro-actively address data collection and management ethics and disclosure issues:

  1. If you're in the business of collecting data, whether it's directly or indirectly for advertising and monetization purposes, work with programs like the DAA's self regulated opt-out program to offer a way for site visitors to opt-out.
  2. Don't just disclose your data collection practices in your privacy policy - make sure your privacy disclosures are readable and digestible by the general public. Meaning, don't obfuscate your data collection and management terms within a sea of legal mumbo jumbo. Here's a great example of a privacy policy from photo storing and discovery site, 500px, which manages to incorporate both the legal language and its more lay-friendly counterpart: 500px Privacy Policy.

For additional reading and resources on this topic check out:

MIT Technology Review: What Big Data Needs: A Code of Ethical Practices

Video Interview with Frank Buytendijk on Information-Management.com

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