Data Ethics. I have questions….

As the co-owner of Konnexus our focus is on working with data & project services professionals who want to build up their data teams due to growth, high project demands or due to talent leaving to go elsewhere; or talent wanting to look for new opportunities.

As I talk to data professionals who work in a range of roles, the topic of data ethics sits at the front of my mind.

As a consumer myself (let’s face it online shopping is my thing!) the amount of data that organisations gather as part of normal business practice is astounding. Organisations use this data to gain insight into the customer experience to promote loyalty and ongoing business, but to also understand the buying preferences of their customers.

What the legal and I think at times, more importantly, are the ethical responsibilities of organisations in how they use the data they collect?

What data functions, and data teams, do with the data that is captured is astounding and I am constantly in awe of their skills and ability to work with all types of data. But are organisations thinking about how the data is used ethically, and if so, whose responsibility is it?

I am no expert and even if I attempted to define the word ethics, I would immediately find myself in a mindfield of definitions and philosophical arguments. If we look at the Wikipedia definition of ethics ‘Ethics or moral philosophy is a branch of philosophy that “involves systematizing, defending, and recommending concepts of right and wrong behavior’ – this is not a simple subject.

I am asking the question, are organisations considering ‘data ethics’ at all. Data governance is a vital function of any organisation, and it is great to see the increase in data governance functions within many of the organisations we work with. Data governance is key to ensuring that organisations have the right frameworks in place for data management. But is data ethics a considered part of a data governance function, or is it considered the responsibility of an organisation much more broadly?

Should data ethics not be….

  • A topic for all organisations, considering they all have data?
  • Of consideration in understanding ‘short term marketing campaigns’ in lieu of potential issues longer term?
  • Understood in the context of where the data comes from. Is it coming from multiple sources and third parties, and how has it been gained?
  • Language used throughout an organisation as a matter of its foundations, its core?

If an organisation is collecting data, using tools and technologies to gather, analyse and provide insights from the data, and using it for a myriad of reasons, then surely ethical concerns will arise.

When organisations are meeting to put in place their strategies, are they talking about the ethical use of data and what that means to them. Should this become a part of an ingrained culture that values how data is used? And if so, are they focusing on: –

  • Values that are specific to how they want to use data, and ensuring this is communicated both internally but also to the external market, just like values are communicated
  • Understanding that data ethics is ‘everyone’s business’
  • A data focus ingrained in the values that cover all aspects of an organisation

Data ethics! Should it be simply a considered part of the culture…. of simply a way of doing things that align the way data is used to how the organisation wants to work, grow and be successful.

See… I have questions….

I have a strong interest in data governance, and more broadly data ethics.

Tracee Rowe

If you are a senior professional in this space, I would love to hear from you, learn from you, and perhaps get you involved in our roundtables and/or podcasts – email me

This is a complex topic, I know! But one I think should be always on the agenda.

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