Digital technology has put a wealth of human data at our fingertips. How can we be sure we are using it responsibly and ethically?
There’s no doubt that facts and statistics offer valuable insights that can be employed to boost business. But it’s vital to lay down ground rules as a company before using personal information to our advantage, says Paul Daugherty, writing for MIT Sloan.
As technology romps ahead, it’s never been easier to gather wide-ranging details about people’s everyday lives, habits and even digressions. Data is a valuable currency in the digital age, but using it unwisely can cause long-lasting damage.
Daugherty cites a case where Danish researchers dredged the accounts of 70,000 dating site users, putting the intimate details found online – including political views, use of drugs and website user names – into their study report.
This provoked a furious backlash about ethical and legal boundaries. Because the information was already on the internet, was it OK to reuse it? Not necessarily, says Daugherty.
It’s all about trust
“Digital trust – identified as a key trend in the Accenture Technology Vision 2016 report – is very difficult for businesses to build with customers, but very easy to lose,” he writes.
The ethics of data use has crept up on most businesses, but it is now a key factor as our digital transformations unfold. Focusing on security and privacy is no longer enough. Some companies are putting ethical considerations at the heart of their approach throughout the supply chain, thereby building an environment of accountability as well as trust.
Daugherty comments: “Accenture’s study found that 83 per cent of executives believe that trust is the cornerstone of the digital economy. But how to achieve that trust remains an open question for most.”
Setting up your ethical code
So, how do you go about building a code of data ethics? The author offers these three tips:
1) Change your company’s core view of data. Establish that ethics go deeper than standard regulations on security and privacy. Stress that facts and figures can be personal and sensitive, and that manipulation and negative use of data can damage trust.
2) Embed ethical handling in your whole data supply chain. This involves setting up company-wide best practices in regard to data on every step of product development or delivery of services as part of your data ethics code. These practices should be reviewed on a regular basis, in line with the code itself, to update and reinforce as technology develops.
3) Classify exactly what your ethical code means. Make sure your language is clear and understood by all employees and outside agencies involved in your data handling journeys. Clarity across the board is vital if solid decisions about data are needed.
Putting in place your fundamental ethos around data use – and establishing methods to keep check on practices – is essential if you want to reap the rich rewards of customer trust and brand loyalty.