Proactive Data Ethics for Better Business

Debates around how private businesses and governments use people’s data have been a hot topic over the past decade. Companies rely on customer data to retarget and personalize experiences, but consumers are pushing back on that data collection. From data protection laws like GDPR and CCPA to the phase-out of third party cookies, both the government and private businesses are taking steps to address the issue. But is it enough?  

Data protection rules and ethical guidelines are unfortunately not a high priority for all companies. But every organization should have better guidelines in place to reduce the risk of customer data exposure and misuse. Creating appropriate procedures and enforcing them encourages ethical data use for all businesses. To carry out these policies, companies must create data ethics standards and regularly evaluate them.  

What is Data Ethics?  

Data ethics describe a code of behavior around how an individual’s data should be curated, generated, processed, shared, recorded, used in algorithms, and otherwise utilized. The practice is meant to create more mindfulness around how data is used and how those practices affect individuals.  

Data ethics directly concerns those who work with data, including analysts, data scientists, and technology professionals. However, anyone handling data should have a grasp of these important concepts.  

Why do Businesses Adopt Data Ethics Policies? 

Companies that follow data ethics guidelines promote themselves as being trustworthy and transparent with customer data. These businesses recognize that customers are more likely to share information if they feel it improves their experience with the company and isn’t a burden. Adopting data ethics policies proves to be an advantage for these businesses and allows them to capture more loyalty and reduce data mishaps.  

Tips to Building a Successful Data Ethics Program 

When an organization is ready to build a data ethics program, it’s sometimes difficult to know where to begin. To create your guidelines for ethical data use, consider these four tips:   

Tip #1: Align Values and Beliefs as a Company 

Companies must first create a mission and overall vision for how their data program will look and what they expect of their employees. Critical standards around data ethics should be reflected in these values. Establishing clear guidelines will help those accessing the data understand what’s ok and what’s not ok when it comes to data access and use.  

To keep the established standards top-of-mind, consider incorporating a discussion of data ethics into weekly or monthly team meetings. Offer free reading material or compile examples of questionable data ethics in other businesses to help teams learn how to identify issues that violate your values. For example, assumptions in AI and machine learning operations can influence the accuracy of results. Recent new stories, like this one highlighting the racial bias of a healthcare AI, could be a great point of discussion.  

Tip #2: Create a Data-Ethics Board 

Create a data ethics board where stakeholders across departments can work together as a committee to evaluate data use cases. These individuals should represent members of your legal team, IT department, C-Suite, and general business. IT representation is crucial to the ethics board because of the technical knowledge and responsibilities they take on. However, data ethics shouldn’t be placed solely on IT’s shoulders.  

Every business department must comply with the policies that are adopted and monitor functions for new issues that may arise. The board must define all standards and ensure they align with the company’s values while also ensuring the standards are being carried out throughout all departments.  

Tip #3: Determine Data Ownership and Risk Mitigation 

A good data program will first define roles for everyone involved. These roles will help determine tasks. For example, when an algorithm needs to be overwritten, it should be clear who oversees the changes that are needed. The policy should also determine responsibilities as data is collected and processed.   

Companies should also be aware of existing data risks, such as threats to the personal information of customers. The business must have procedures in place to secure processes around these risks before it’s too late.   

Tip #4: Let the Ethics Influence Culture and Talent 

A culture that champions transparency is an advantage not only in the data ethics program, but also across the business. The correct leadership makes rolling out changes to data ethics easier since the tasks are transparent to all employees.  

Training new and existing employees with these data privacy and risk mitigation mindsets will set you up for success. Setting expectations from the beginning puts standards in place to ensure data is protected long-term. Access management standards can help further the data ethics policies by defining which users are privileged to which information. 

Concluding Thoughts 

For long-term success with data ethics initiatives, it is important to set standards and procedures, create a data ethics board to review the use cases of those standards, define who owns each type of data, and encourage a culture that values transparency.  

These tips will help teams get started on a data ethics journey, but they’re only the beginning. Continually assessing data ethics policies as the business evolves will keep those standards aligned to the needs of the business while giving peace of mind to its customers. In the end, data ethics is a win-win for all. 

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