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Why the ethical use of data and user privacy concerns matter Why the ethical use of data and user privacy concerns matter
Join today’s leading executives online at the Data Summit on March 9th. Register here. This article was contributed by Charlie Fletcher Data and its... Why the ethical use of data and user privacy concerns matter


Join today’s leading executives online at the Data Summit on March 9th. Register here.


This article was contributed by Charlie Fletcher

Data and its uses pervade the digital economy. From online data mining to AI/ML-enhanced analytics, the range of data sources and tools available on the web are boundless. For every digital user accessing applications, however, there are just as many privacy concerns. 

Cybercrime has risen exponentially in recent years, leaving online user information more vulnerable than ever. Facing these risks, organizations of every size and purpose must commit to ethical uses of data as they better secure their information systems.

This process starts with understanding the many privacy concerns that affect users as they interact with digital platforms. From fraud to data selling, users fear the exploitation of their information for purposes outside of their own best interests. Understand the privacy concerns inherent in data collection, then explore the ethical use of data through these actionable data applications. Doing so isn’t just good business sense; it’s your moral obligation to consumers.

User privacy concerns

The first step in using data ethically is addressing the privacy concerns that are inherent with data collection and utilization. Applying the wrong data privacy strategy can cost an organization billions in fees and damages amidst ongoing efforts to strengthen cybersecurity efforts and privacy gaps. Meanwhile, attempted cyberattacks have been continuously on the rise. 

To address consumer concerns regarding data privacy, businesses must be prepared to combat the biggest challenges involved in data privacy. These challenges include:

  • Embedding data privacy — To best protect user data, identifying factors have to be hidden from the beginning. This requires incorporating privacy as an embedded aspect of data collection, not just an afterthought.
  • Accommodating a range of devices securely — These days remote work and bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies add layers of network security concerns to the average data collection process. To remain secure, data has to travel through various devices and access points while retaining privacy standards.
  • Protecting a constantly growing range of data — With big data changing the ways we explore and uncover information, scaling protections to match this growth is difficult. Doing so requires a culture of data responsibility, including policies for minimizing data storage and deleting excess or used information. 

These are just a few of the many privacy concerns that come with implementing data for any business process. However, the scope of your data privacy concerns can also be influenced by the regulations that exist in your market. 

For example, the European Union maintains the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) guidelines that enforce principles of transparency and data security on any information collected within the EU. Additionally, a range of other guidelines may apply if you operate in areas like China or California, where additional data collection and privacy standards are emerging. 

A failure to protect consumer data leads to all kinds of risks for consumers and companies alike. From compliance failure fees to a damaged reputation, the cost of poorly-managed data is typically too great for businesses to bear. Instead, organizations should adopt a commitment to ethical data use.

Using data ethically

An unethical approach to data has contributed to some of the worst accounting scandals in human history. Take WorldCom, for instance. This organization manipulated financial data on income statements and balance sheets to make their company look much better to investors. Through data manipulation, WorldCom ended up costing these investors billions while the company racked up nearly $4 billion in accounting fraud. 

Scandals like these damage the reputation of every institution that collects and applies data. Contrary to this belief that’s been built, data can be used ethically. By nature, data supports all kinds of efficiency and quality benefits for virtually any operation. That’s because data represents the facts. 

By structuring these raw facts into comprehensive software and silos for data management, researchers are better prepared to make improvements to products, services, financial models, and more. 

Ethics, then, is the baseline for integrating these improvements. An ethical approach to data use can be defined as one that intends to improve value to consumers without putting them at greater risk. Such an approach complies with privacy regulations while constantly striving for improvements in an increasingly dangerous digital environment. You too can apply data ethically by striving to incorporate ethics principles in your use of information.

Across the data economy, experts have assembled a consensus when it comes to ethical principles that guide data-driven decision-making. These principles are:

  • Empathy — Data ultimately involves and affects human beings. By focusing on the human being at the center of every data transaction, analysts can make more ethical decisions when it comes to applying that data.
  • Data control — Our data is an extension of ourselves. In turn, organizations should prioritize user ownership and control of their own data. The user decides what they’re comfortable with, and organizations should support that. 
  • Transparency — Everyone has encountered Terms of Service (ToS) agreements too lengthy and jargon-filled for the average user to understand. An ethical approach to data management makes it clear to the user what data is being collected and why. 
  • Accountability — An organization is responsible for maintaining the security of the information it collects. This means a consistent, cutting-edge security process must be maintained if data is to be utilized. 
  • Equality — You might think that data can’t be biased, and while that might be true, our means of gathering, collecting, and applying data can be. Evaluate your process to ensure that it doesn’t reflect prejudice of any kind, conscious or unconscious. 

By considering each instance of data application through the lens of these ethical principles, you can better address every privacy concern that comes with data collection. After all, businesses in the modern economy need the customer trust that comes from a secure data management system. Use these tips and tools to make your use of data more ethical. 

Charlie Fletcher is a freelance writer passionate about workplace equity, and whose published works cover sociology, technology, business, education, health, and more.

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