The Ethics of Big Data Applications in the Consumer Sector


Paper by Markus Christen et al : “Business applications relying on processing of large amounts of heterogeneous data (Big Data) are considered to be key drivers of innovation in the digital economy. However, these applications also pose ethical issues that may undermine the credibility of data-driven businesses. In our contribution, we discuss ethical problems that are associated with Big Data such as: How are core values like autonomy, privacy, and solidarity affected in a Big Data world? Are some data a public good? Or: Are we obliged to divulge personal data to a certain degree in order to make the society more secure or more efficient?

We answer those questions by first outlining the ethical topics that are discussed in the scientific literature and the lay media using a bibliometric approach. Second, referring to the results of expert interviews and workshops with practitioners, we identify core norms and values affected by Big Data applications—autonomy, equality, fairness, freedom, privacy, property-rights, solidarity, and transparency—and outline how they are exemplified in examples of Big Data consumer applications, for example, in terms of informational self-determination, non-discrimination, or free opinion formation. Based on use cases such as personalized advertising, individual pricing, or credit risk management we discuss the process of balancing such values in order to identify legitimate, questionable, and unacceptable Big Data applications from an ethics point of view. We close with recommendations on how practitioners working in applied data science can deal with ethical issues of Big Data….(More)”.

Return on Data


Paper by Noam Kolt: “Consumers routinely supply personal data to technology companies in exchange for services. Yet, the relationship between the utility (U) consumers gain and the data (D) they supply — “return on data” (ROD) — remains largely unexplored. Expressed as a ratio, ROD = U / D. While lawmakers strongly advocate protecting consumer privacy, they tend to overlook ROD. Are the benefits of the services enjoyed by consumers, such as social networking and predictive search, commensurate with the value of the data extracted from them? How can consumers compare competing data-for-services deals?

Currently, the legal frameworks regulating these transactions, including privacy law, aim primarily to protect personal data. They treat data protection as a standalone issue, distinct from the benefits which consumers receive. This article suggests that privacy concerns should not be viewed in isolation, but as part of ROD. Just as companies can quantify return on investment (ROI) to optimize investment decisions, consumers should be able to assess ROD in order to better spend and invest personal data. Making data-for-services transactions more transparent will enable consumers to evaluate the merits of these deals, negotiate their terms and make more informed decisions. Pivoting from the privacy paradigm to ROD will both incentivize data-driven service providers to offer consumers higher ROD, as well as create opportunities for new market entrants….(More)”.

Data & Policy: A new venue to study and explore policy–data interaction


Opening editorial by Stefaan G. Verhulst, Zeynep Engin and Jon Crowcroft: “…Policy–data interactions or governance initiatives that use data have been the exception rather than the norm, isolated prototypes and trials rather than an indication of real, systemic change. There are various reasons for the generally slow uptake of data in policymaking, and several factors will have to change if the situation is to improve. ….

  • Despite the number of successful prototypes and small-scale initiatives, policy makers’ understanding of data’s potential and its value proposition generally remains limited (Lutes, 2015). There is also limited appreciation of the advances data science has made the last few years. This is a major limiting factor; we cannot expect policy makers to use data if they do not recognize what data and data science can do.
  • The recent (and justifiable) backlash against how certain private companies handle consumer data has had something of a reverse halo effect: There is a growing lack of trust in the way data is collected, analyzed, and used, and this often leads to a certain reluctance (or simply risk-aversion) on the part of officials and others (Engin, 2018).
  • Despite several high-profile open data projects around the world, much (probably the majority) of data that could be helpful in governance remains either privately held or otherwise hidden in silos (Verhulst and Young, 2017b). There remains a shortage not only of data but, more specifically, of high-quality and relevant data.
  • With few exceptions, the technical capacities of officials remain limited, and this has obviously negative ramifications for the potential use of data in governance (Giest, 2017).
  • It’s not just a question of limited technical capacities. There is often a vast conceptual and values gap between the policy and technical communities (Thompson et al., 2015; Uzochukwu et al., 2016); sometimes it seems as if they speak different languages. Compounding this difference in world views is the fact that the two communities rarely interact.
  • Yet, data about the use and evidence of the impact of data remain sparse. The impetus to use more data in policy making is stymied by limited scholarship and a weak evidential basis to show that data can be helpful and how. Without such evidence, data advocates are limited in their ability to make the case for more data initiatives in governance.
  • Data are not only changing the way policy is developed, but they have also reopened the debate around theory- versus data-driven methods in generating scientific knowledge (Lee, 1973; Kitchin, 2014; Chivers, 2018; Dreyfuss, 2017) and thus directly questioning the evidence base to utilization and implementation of data within policy making. A number of associated challenges are being discussed, such as: (i) traceability and reproducibility of research outcomes (due to “black box processing”); (ii) the use of correlation instead of causation as the basis of analysis, biases and uncertainties present in large historical datasets that cause replication and, in some cases, amplification of human cognitive biases and imperfections; and (iii) the incorporation of existing human knowledge and domain expertise into the scientific knowledge generation processes—among many other topics (Castelvecchi, 2016; Miller and Goodchild, 2015; Obermeyer and Emanuel, 2016; Provost and Fawcett, 2013).
  • Finally, we believe that there should be a sound under-pinning a new theory of what we call Policy–Data Interactions. To date, in reaction to the proliferation of data in the commercial world, theories of data management,1 privacy,2 and fairness3 have emerged. From the Human–Computer Interaction world, a manifesto of principles of Human–Data Interaction (Mortier et al., 2014) has found traction, which intends reducing the asymmetry of power present in current design considerations of systems of data about people. However, we need a consistent, symmetric approach to consideration of systems of policy and data, how they interact with one another.

All these challenges are real, and they are sticky. We are under no illusions that they will be overcome easily or quickly….

During the past four conferences, we have hosted an incredibly diverse range of dialogues and examinations by key global thought leaders, opinion leaders, practitioners, and the scientific community (Data for Policy, 2015201620172019). What became increasingly obvious was the need for a dedicated venue to deepen and sustain the conversations and deliberations beyond the limitations of an annual conference. This leads us to today and the launch of Data & Policy, which aims to confront and mitigate the barriers to greater use of data in policy making and governance.

Data & Policy is a venue for peer-reviewed research and discussion about the potential for and impact of data science on policy. Our aim is to provide a nuanced and multistranded assessment of the potential and challenges involved in using data for policy and to bridge the “two cultures” of science and humanism—as CP Snow famously described in his lecture on “Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution” (Snow, 1959). By doing so, we also seek to bridge the two other dichotomies that limit an examination of datafication and is interaction with policy from various angles: the divide between practice and scholarship; and between private and public…

So these are our principles: scholarly, pragmatic, open-minded, interdisciplinary, focused on actionable intelligence, and, most of all, innovative in how we will share insight and pushing at the boundaries of what we already know and what already exists. We are excited to launch Data & Policy with the support of Cambridge University Press and University College London, and we’re looking for partners to help us build it as a resource for the community. If you’re reading this manifesto it means you have at least a passing interest in the subject; we hope you will be part of the conversation….(More)”.

Privacy Enhancing Technologies


The Royal Society: “How can technologies help organisations and individuals protect data in practice and, at the same time, unlock opportunities for data access and use?

The Royal Society’s Privacy Enhancing Technologies project has been investigating this question and has launched a report (PDF) setting out the current use, development and limits of privacy enhancing technologies (PETs) in data analysis. 

The data we generate every day holds a lot of value and potentially also contains sensitive information that individuals or organisations might not wish to share with everyone. The protection of personal or sensitive data featured prominently in the social and ethical tensions identified in our British Academy and Royal Society report Data management and use: Governance in the 21st century. For example, how can organisations best use data for public good whilst protecting sensitive information about individuals? Under other circumstances, how can they share data with groups with competing interests whilst protecting commercially or otherwise sensitive information?

Realising the full potential of large-scale data analysis may be constrained by important legal, reputational, political, business and competition concerns.  Certain risks can potentially be mitigated and managed with a set of emerging technologies and approaches often collectively referred to as ‘Privacy Enhancing Technologies’ (PETs). 

This disruptive set of technologies, combined with changes in wider policy and business frameworks, could enable the sharing and use of data in a privacy-preserving manner. They also have the potential to reshape the data economy and to change the trust relationships between citizens, governments and companies.

This report provides a high-level overview of five current and promising PETs of a diverse nature, with their respective readiness levels and illustrative case studies from a range of sectors, with a view to inform in particular applied data science research and the digital strategies of government departments and businesses. This report also includes recommendations on how the UK could fully realise the potential of PETs and to allow their use on a greater scale.

The project was informed by a series of conversations and evidence gathering events, involving a range of stakeholders across academia, government and the private sector (also see the project terms of reference and Working Group)….(More)”.

The Tricky Ethics of Using YouTube Videos for Academic Research


Jane C.Hu in P/S Magazine: “…But just because something is legal doesn’t mean it’s ethical. That doesn’t mean it’s necessarily unethical, either, but it’s worth asking questions about how and why researchers use social media posts, and whether those uses could be harmful. I was once a researcher who had to obtain human-subjects approval from a university institutional review board, and I know it can be a painstaking application process with long wait times. Collecting data from individuals takes a long time too. If you could just sub in YouTube videos in place of collecting your own data, that saves time, money, and effort. But that could be at the expense of the people whose data you’re scraping.

But, you might say, if people don’t want to be studied online, then they shouldn’t post anything. But most people don’t fully understand what “publicly available” really means or its ramifications. “You might know intellectually that technically anyone can see a tweet, but you still conceptualize your audience as being your 200 Twitter followers,” Fiesler says. In her research, she’s found that the majority of people she’s polled have no clue that researchers study public tweets.

Some may disagree that it’s researchers’ responsibility to work around social media users’ ignorance, but Fiesler and others are calling for their colleagues to be more mindful about any work that uses publicly available data. For instance, Ashley Patterson, an assistant professor of language and literacy at Penn State University, ultimately decided to use YouTube videos in her dissertation work on biracial individuals’ educational experiences. That’s a decision she arrived at after carefully considering her options each step of the way. “I had to set my own levels of ethical standards and hold myself to it, because I knew no one else would,” she says. One of Patterson’s first steps was to ask herself what YouTube videos would add to her work, and whether there were any other ways to collect her data. “It’s not a matter of whether it makes my life easier, or whether it’s ‘just data out there’ that would otherwise go to waste. The nature of my question and the response I was looking for made this an appropriate piece [of my work],” she says.

Researchers may also want to consider qualitative, hard-to-quantify contextual cues when weighing ethical decisions. What kind of data is being used? Fiesler points out that tweets about, say, a television show are way less personal than ones about a sensitive medical condition. Anonymized written materials, like Facebook posts, could be less invasive than using someone’s face and voice from a YouTube video. And the potential consequences of the research project are worth considering too. For instance, Fiesler and other critics have pointed out that researchers who used YouTube videos of people documenting their experience undergoing hormone replacement therapy to train an artificial intelligence to identify trans people could be putting their unwitting participants in danger. It’s not obvious how the results of Speech2Face will be used, and, when asked for comment, the paper’s researchers said they’d prefer to quote from their paper, which pointed to a helpful purpose: providing a “representative face” based on the speaker’s voice on a phone call. But one can also imagine dangerous applications, like doxing anonymous YouTubers.

One way to get ahead of this, perhaps, is to take steps to explicitly inform participants their data is being used. Fiesler says that, when her team asked people how they’d feel after learning their tweets had been used for research, “not everyone was necessarily super upset, but most people were surprised.” They also seemed curious; 85 percent of participants said that, if their tweet were included in research, they’d want to read the resulting paper. “In human-subjects research, the ethical standard is informed consent, but inform and consent can be pulled apart; you could potentially inform people without getting their consent,” Fiesler suggests….(More)”.

How Can We Overcome the Challenge of Biased and Incomplete Data?


Knowledge@Wharton: “Data analytics and artificial intelligence are transforming our lives. Be it in health care, in banking and financial services, or in times of humanitarian crises — data determine the way decisions are made. But often, the way data is collected and measured can result in biased and incomplete information, and this can significantly impact outcomes.  

In a conversation with Knowledge@Wharton at the SWIFT Institute Conference on the Impact of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning in the Financial Services Industry, Alexandra Olteanu, a post-doctoral researcher at Microsoft Research, U.S. and Canada, discussed the ethical and people considerations in data collection and artificial intelligence and how we can work towards removing the biases….

….Knowledge@Wharton: Bias is a big issue when you’re dealing with humanitarian crises, because it can influence who gets help and who doesn’t. When you translate that into the business world, especially in financial services, what implications do you see for algorithmic bias? What might be some of the consequences?

Olteanu: A good example is from a new law in the New York state according to which insurance companies can now use social media to decide the level for your premiums. But, they could in fact end up using incomplete information. For instance, you might be buying your vegetables from the supermarket or a farmer’s market, but these retailers might not be tracking you on social media. So nobody knows that you are eating vegetables. On the other hand, a bakery that you visit might post something when you buy from there. Based on this, the insurance companies may conclude that you only eat cookies all the time. This shows how even incomplete data can affect you….(More)”.

Commission publishes guidance on free flow of non-personal data


European Commission: “The guidance fulfils an obligation in the Regulation on the free flow of non-personal data (FFD Regulation), which requires the Commission to publish a guidance on the interaction between this Regulation and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), especially as regards datasets composed of both personal and non-personal data. It aims to help users – in particular small and medium-sized enterprises – understand the interaction between the two regulations.

In line with the existing GDPR documents, prepared by the European Data Protection Board, this guidance document aims to clarify which rules apply when processing personal and non-personal data. It gives a useful overview of the central concepts of the free flow of personal and non-personal data within the EU, while explaining the relation between the two Regulations in practical terms and with concrete examples….

Non-personal data are distinct from personal data, as laid down in the GDPR Regulation. The non-personal data can be categorised in terms of origin, namely:

  • data which originally did not relate to an identified or identifiable natural person, such as data on weather conditions generated by sensors installed on wind turbines, or data on maintenance needs for industrial machines; or
  • data which was initially personal data, but later made anonymous.

While the guidance refers to more examples of non-personal data, it also explains the concept of personal data, anonymised and pseudonymised, to provide a better understanding as well describes the limitations between personal and non-personal data.

What are mixed datasets?

In most real-life situations, a dataset is very likely to be composed of both personal and non-personal data. This is often referred to as a “mixed dataset”. Mixed datasets represent the majority of datasets used in the data economy and commonly gathered thanks to technological developments such as the Internet of Things (i.e. digitally connecting objects), artificial intelligence and technologies enabling big data analytics.

Examples of mixed datasets include a company’s tax records, mentioning the name and telephone number of the managing director of the company. This can also include a company’s knowledge of IT problems and solutions based on individual incident reports, or a research institution’s anonymised statistical data and the raw data initially collected, such as the replies of individual respondents to statistical survey questions….(More)”.

MegaPixels


About: “…MegaPixels is an art and research project first launched in 2017 for an installation at Tactical Technology Collective’s GlassRoom about face recognition datasets. In 2018 MegaPixels was extended to cover pedestrian analysis datasets for a commission by Elevate Arts festival in Austria. Since then MegaPixels has evolved into a large-scale interrogation of hundreds of publicly-available face and person analysis datasets, the first of which launched on this site in April 2019.

MegaPixels aims to provide a critical perspective on machine learning image datasets, one that might otherwise escape academia and industry funded artificial intelligence think tanks that are often supported by the several of the same technology companies who have created datasets presented on this site.

MegaPixels is an independent project, designed as a public resource for educators, students, journalists, and researchers. Each dataset presented on this site undergoes a thorough review of its images, intent, and funding sources. Though the goals are similar to publishing an academic paper, MegaPixels is a website-first research project, with an academic publication to follow.

One of the main focuses of the dataset investigations presented on this site is to uncover where funding originated. Because of our emphasis on other researcher’s funding sources, it is important that we are transparent about our own….(More)”.

Privacy and Identity in a Networked Society: Refining Privacy Impact Assessment,


Book by Stefan Strauß: “This book offers an analysis of privacy impacts resulting from and reinforced by technology and discusses fundamental risks and challenges of protecting privacy in the digital age.

Privacy is among the most endangered “species” in our networked society: personal information is processed for various purposes beyond our control. Ultimately, this affects the natural interplay between privacy, personal identity and identification. This book investigates that interplay from a systemic, socio-technical perspective by combining research from the social and computer sciences. It sheds light on the basic functions of privacy, their relation to identity, and how they alter with digital identification practices. The analysis reveals a general privacy control dilemma of (digital) identification shaped by several interrelated socio-political, economic and technical factors. Uncontrolled increases in the identification modalities inherent to digital technology reinforce this dilemma and benefit surveillance practices, thereby complicating the detection of privacy risks and the creation of appropriate safeguards.

Easing this problem requires a novel approach to privacy impact assessment (PIA), and this book proposes an alternative PIA framework which, at its core, comprises a basic typology of (personally and technically) identifiable information. This approach contributes to the theoretical and practical understanding of privacy impacts and thus, to the development of more effective protection standards….(More)”.

Social Media Monitoring: How the Department of Homeland Security Uses Digital Data in the Name of National Security


Report by the Brennan Center for Justice: “The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is rapidly expanding its collection of social media information and using it to evaluate the security risks posed by foreign and American travelers. This year marks a major expansion. The visa applications vetted by DHS will include social media handles that the State Department is set to collect from some 15 million travelers per year.1 Social media can provide a vast trove of information about individuals, including their personal preferences, political and religious views, physical and mental health, and the identity of their friends and family. But it is susceptible to misinterpretation, and wholesale monitoring of social media creates serious risks to privacy and free speech. Moreover, despite the rush to implement these programs, there is scant evidence that they actually meet the goals for which they are deployed…(More)”