Editorâs note: The followingÂ is an abstract from Data Ethics â The New Competitive Advantage.
We are living in an era defined and shaped byÂ data.Â DataÂ makes the world go round. It is politics, it is culture, it is everyday life and it is business. OurÂ data-flooded era is one of technological progress, with tides rising at a never seen before pace. Roles, rights and responsibilities are reorganized andÂ newÂ ethical questions posed. Data ethics must and will be aÂ newÂ compass to guide us.
Two decades ago, environmental reporting was something quiteÂ new, and many companies did not take being âgreenâ very seriously. There was growing concern among good-intentioned citizens, but many didnât know how to act on it. Today, those same worried individuals can sort their garbage, eat organic foods, take warm, solar-powered showers and drive electric cars.
Companies also take the environment seriously. Not only because those with a direct effect on the environment are required to report to the authorities, but because green business practices are sound business practices. Being eco-friendly has become an investor demand, a legal requirement, a thriving market and a clearÂ competitiveÂ advantage.Â DataÂ ethicsÂ will develop similarly â just much faster.
DataÂ leaks, hacks, surveillance scandals and, especially, social media usersâ âdigital hangoversâ have kick-started a movement. Individuals and consumers arenât simply concerned about a lack of control over their personalÂ dataÂ (their privacy), theyâre starting to take action on it and react with protests, ad blockers and encrypted services. In Europe, aÂ newÂ data protection regulatory framework which encourages the development of a privacy by default infrastructure has been implemented. Across the globe, weâre seeing aÂ dataÂ ethicsÂ paradigm shift take the shape of a social movement, a cultural shift and a technological and legal development that increasingly places humans at the center.
Businesses are starting to feel this shift. Not as an âeither/or;â either we useÂ dataÂ or we donât, but rather theyâre gaining awareness aboutÂ data from an ethical perspective, gradually moving away from an overbearing focus on bigÂ dataÂ and embracing sustainableÂ dataÂ use. Visionary companies are already positioning themselves within this movement and investments in companies withÂ dataÂ ethicsÂ are on the rise. Weâre seeing an increasing number of businesses take the development of privacy technology as a direct point of departure, along with the value of individualÂ dataÂ control.
What is data ethics?
Ethical companies in todayâs bigÂ dataÂ era are doing more than just complying with data protection legislation. They also follow the spirit and vision of the legislation by listening closely to their customers. Theyâre implementing credible and clear transparency policies forÂ data management. Theyâre only processing necessaryÂ dataÂ and developing privacy-aware corporate cultures and organizational structures. Some are developing products and services using Privacy by Design.
Weâre in an age of experimentation where laws, technology and, perhaps most importantly, our limits as individuals are tested and negotiated on a daily basis.
AÂ data-ethical company sustains ethical values relating toÂ data, asking: Is this something I myself would accept as a consumer? Is this something I want my children to grow up with? A companyâs degree of âdata ethics awarenessâ is not only crucial for survival in a market where consumers progressively set the bar, itâs also necessary for society as a whole. It plays a similar role as a companyâs environmental conscience â essential for company survival, but also for the planetâs welfare. Yet there isnât a one-size-fits-all solution, perfect for every ethical dilemma. Weâre in an age of experimentation where laws, technology and, perhaps most importantly, our limits as individuals are tested and negotiated on a daily basis.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution
In the wake of todayâs rapid technological development, human and ethical dilemmas emerge.Â DataÂ is transforming society â some call it the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The first industrial revolution was based on water and steam, the next on electricity and the third on information and digitalization. In the fourth, the boundaries between the physical-biological and digital worlds are being eliminated â fueled byÂ data.
Data, personalÂ dataÂ included, can have many positive uses and outcomes, but there are also many risks in aÂ data-driven business process. Gartner, Inc. has predicted that by 2018, 50 percent of businessÂ ethics violations will occur because of improper use of bigÂ data.
Global standards for data ethics
DataÂ is an asset, but itâs also a risk. Today, the most prominent perils are data exhaust and unsustainableÂ dataÂ practices, and a process to negotiate global standards, roles, rights and responsibilities to handle such risks has been initiated. This also means that tensions and clashes between laws and cultural values are amplified.
Throughout history, societies have always somehow managed to mitigate man-made risks produced by different periods of industrialization (e.g. pollution, atomic weapons and health hazards in food production) through new regulations, global standards, formal verification systems which consumers trust and slow but steady cultural adaptation â includingÂ new levels of awareness, education, literacy andÂ ethics. Industry has had to adapt to these requirements not only with targeted risk assessment and management, but by innovating and evolving inÂ newÂ ways. It will have to do the same in aÂ data-saturated environment, withÂ dataÂ ethicsÂ as a guide.
50 cases with data ethical companies
DataÂ Ethics â TheÂ NewÂ CompetitiveÂ AdvantageÂ is an analysis of trends through which we map aÂ newÂ field by looking at a few constructive solutions. This also means we address the forces at play in general, that is: the societal power structures, interests and relationships underpinning the field. Itâs fundamentally important to us to make the invisible visible and, as such, provide the right tools to build somethingÂ new:Â data-ethical services, businesses and products based on a paradigm shift in the way we approach digitalÂ data.
The book combines broad trend analyses with more than 50 cases of companies that use data ethics to varying degrees, such as German toy maker Vai Kai, Australian personal data store Meeco, French insurance groupÂ AXA, the new Swiss privacy-focused âskypeâ Wire, and the U.S. search engine DuckDuckGo. Most of the companies mentioned are still in a beta phase in theÂ dataÂ ethicsÂ field, and not one has yet found the optimal solution. Every beginning takes time, just as it did with the products and companies that arose from the first inkling of environmental awareness.
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