Businesses are practically falling over themselves to deliver on the potential of their data, but are they acting responsibly? Find out why you need to pay more attention to the ethics of data usage – and how it can have a major impact on your relationship with customers.

How is Big Data shaping a new society?

Whether you realise it or not, data ethics is headline news. From targeted fake news on social media to sophisticated fraud, data has been wielded as a weapon – and it’s having a profound effect on every aspect of our lives.

A timely example of this in action is the way the COVID-19 crisis has shaped the terms of data collection and usage. Looking to repatriate any British citizens left stranded abroad at the outset of the global lockdown, the UK government recently asked mobile network operators to provide them with access to customer roaming data

At first glance, this seems a reasonable request. However, there’s also a suggestion that it’s simply a way for the government to increase its surveillance abilities – an idea backed up by the fact that German authorities were able to bring their tourists home without access to such data.

This story highlights some important questions at the heart of the discussion around Big Data. Should citizens be expected to hand over their data during times of crisis? How does it change the relationship they have with the companies they share personal information with? What do firms need to do to display accountability and build trust while making the most of the data at their disposal?

Watch the full Big Data & Ethics TechCity Connect panel discussion on-demand

Can firms trust automated decision making?

Big Data is a big deal for business. The global market for its tools and services is set to hit a value of more than $118.5bn by 2022. Firms are keen to make the most of their data, but this means that organisations must maintain a duty of care to people and their data.

One major challenge, for example, is the introduction of automated processes for handling huge volumes of data. With the growing use of artificial intelligence (AI) and automated decision-making systems (ADMS), businesses are increasingly handing decisions to algorithms. 

So, how do you demonstrate your accountability for data usage in this scenario? How do you show customers that their information is safe in your hands?

It’s not just about maintaining privacy, either. Firms have to be responsible for the outcomes driven by Big Data. An ADMS will follow whatever insight it discovers in the data, so how do you handle the decisions made based on any prejudice that might be baked into your historical data?

Firms have to recognise the level of trust that they place in these automated systems and show they can deliver oversight. If you don’t know what data your ADMS is working with, how can you understand the implications of sharing that data with external parties?

Where next for Big Data in business?

When it comes to automated processes, there are already ways for firms to introduce a greater level of transparency – such as Explainable AI (XAI). This offers a method for not just making automated decisions, but also explaining the logic behind those decisions. 

Taking that a step further is the concept of replicability – the idea that you can consistently get the same answers from machine algorithms providing you use the same models and data inputs.

These are two ways that technology is evolving to develop trust, while providing more accountability in how huge volumes of data are used and help firms build trust in their approach to Big Data.

However, this doesn’t change the fact that the growth of Big Data is currently outpacing the ability to govern the collection, storage and usage in business. It’s a situation that leaves everyone vulnerable to the continued misuse of data by unethical individuals and organisations. There are no easy answers, but firms need to find a way to navigate this and build trust in the future of Big Data.

Discover more about how firms can navigate the complex world of Big Data and build trust with their customers. Watch the full Big Data & Ethics expert panel at the TechCity Connect industry event on-demand, here.