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Ethical issues of Big Data

November 30, 2016


Companies can easily collect and analyze large amounts of customer data but what about the ethical use of this data once collected? The issues are important and concern us all. Companies collect data either because of compliance requirement or because the technology allows it (e.g. Internet Of Things).

My definition of big data is the following: the use of technology to process and store massive amounts of data in order to carry out a performance analysis. The ethical use of this data raise several issues:


Who controls your data?


The use of this data is often made without users' knowledge. Companies collect data and have the responsibility of it but they often entrust the management of big data to third parties, which creates a risk associated with issues of use of these data. The data are of crucial value for companies. According to a Stanford study[1], “Facebook knows you better than your friends and family”. Even if this seems a little exaggerated, this point shows that companies know a lot about you. This is done thanks to the data that they have collected about you and the analysis of it.

Moreover, the volume of data is so important that human intervention is not sufficient to analyse them. Algorithms are set up to process the data but can we really have an ethical use of data without human intervention?



What degree of transparency in the use of your data?

Today users are wondering if their privacy is respected. Big data brings more transparency both for individuals and organizations. Is anonymization (removal of the link between the information and the identity of the person) the solution?

Although it is difficult to be completely anonymous because big data allows a cross-checking. Companies must ensure users their privacy. A draft European regulation is preparing to Brussels on ethics legislation of big data. However, that transparency works in reverse. that is to say that the user has also more visibility on the action of organisms.



Is your data secure?

Data security is a critical issue of big data. Businesses are not immune against hackers’ attacks. Several examples have already been talked about as hacking Sony, Orange and more recently Yahoo. The most effective way to fight against it is the technology, companies must be aware and must develop the most effective safety systems. As a response to the challenges of Big Data : The Ethical Data Mining. Companies should build an ethical modelling of complex data: the goal is to combine the requirement of ethical sense and the huge potential of big data. Technology cannot fully meet these issues. We must also call for ethics and human behaviour to ensure the privacy and protection of personal data. This could be a code of ethics surrounding the design, implementation and use of personal data embedded in these Big Data. This raises the question of the organization or institution that could be responsible for the preparation of this charter, and labelling process algorithms "ethical".




The use of big data is a growth acceleration vector and efficiency to businesses and users but there may be excesses in the use of data. We may feel powerless. Big data revolution should be framed so as ethical by the different stakeholders (companies, governments ...).



@MendesKevin for @gem_digital - This article originally appeared in digital-me-up.comDigital-me-up is a blog managed by students enrolled in the Digital Business Strategy (DBS) Advanced Masters program at Grenoble Ecole de Management (GEM). Find out more articles on Digital various topic and subscribe to our news feed here.





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