Data ethics in the digital age

March 6th, 2018

Data ethics. The internet is broken. Or at least something is wrong with it. What started out as a free forum with anarchistic proportions has now become a monopoly-driven money machine with a surveillance apparatus that even Orwell would have a hard time imagining. One of the key factors in this development is data – the worlds most valuable resource.


The Economist termed data “The new oil” but they might not have grasped the accuracy of their own words. Just as everyone (except maybe Donald Trump) is beginning to turn their backs on the oil industry, people are now realizing that their digital behaviour has consequences. They are becoming increasingly aware that their privacy is endangered if not already spoiled. Data ethics is becoming a key factor, a compass that every company with digital ambitions must take into account.

GDPR and data ethics

The legal aspects of the digital revolution have not kept pace with the rapid growth and ongoing innovation in algorithm development and data processing. EU’s General Data Protection Regulation stands out as the first ambitious political action in Europe to fix the internet and take back control. It hands out extensive rights to the common people by enabling them to withdraw their consent and monitor how their data is used.

There is still a risk of this regulation ending up like the Kyoto-agreement of data security since it all depends on, if and how the regulation will be enforced by authorities. Are we really going to see the €20 million fines that the regulation threatens with or is this just a symbolic gesture to hide the fact that politicians feel powerless, paralyzed and apathetic regarding their ability to control the big players on the internet? We will see.

But if we are to avoid the Kyoto-scenario, businesses should take the lead and promote data respect and data ethics. This is golden opportunity to gain a competitive edge on a key parameter. Data ethics could very well become the new CSR or the new environmental movement that businesses have to act upon. If the digital revolution should continue at the same pace as the last decades, consumer’s trust must be regained.

Data ethics – An opportunity

For some, data protection seems like a limitation, but this is mostly based on the assumption that data is to direct personalized and precise content in the consumer’s direction. We beg to differ.

  1. People are beginning to understand that their data is being traded beyond their reach and control. Nobody likes that.
  2. People are also becoming increasingly aware that cookies are also used to personalize prices. Fuck that shit.
  3. A huge research conducted by Mckinsey and comScore in 2017 showed that only 26 % of the consumers prefer that their personal data is being collected, stored and connected to their identity to create more personalized content. In other words, they prefer privacy. Furthermore, the research argues that this result can be tracked in the extensive use of Adblocker and VPN-solutions.

We believe that businesses should embrace the fact that consumer awareness is on the rise. The fact that some digital products could be deselected because of their lack of privacy protection, should be seen as an encouragement to disrupt, to design products with privacy in mind and to develop new business models that respect people’s privacy and data ownership.