Ethics of Big Data – A Review

Ethics; heavy 🙂 How fitting is this quote from Ambedkar – "History shows that where ethics and economics come in conflict, victory is always with economics. Vested interests have never been known to have willingly divested themselves unless there was sufficient force to compel them."

Certainly, when discussing Big Data… We are indeed speaking of economics; therefore fitting. This might also explain why the book is less than one hundred pages. 😉 I can't help but think this is "too soon". Too soon to be discussing Ethics in Big Data. Without any real hard examples in the wild to illustrate the risks, we are only guessing as to outcomes. It's difficult to establish what is "Ethical" until someone or something is hurt.

Ethics of Big Data – Balancing Risk and Innovation

Let's assume this is a primer, a primer for a larger and more in depth consideration sometime in the future. With that assumption, this book is a decent "quick" read. The book lays out the framework for Big Data risks from the eyes of the business, and should serve quite well as a catalyst for discussion.

As for Ethics, as stated above, I don't have a good perspective as to the range. The range of risk potential, the establishment of normalcy and extremes. So I am left just as I started. I understand that Information Ethics is an important topic, yet, I am unsure what it means within a data social context, nor a personal data privacy context. The book doesn't cover what I consider to be a real exploration of Ethics. Other than some rare tidbits, Example. Instagram in 2012 saying they own your photos and can do what they wish with them; we, the Big Data practitioners group and its consumers, lack causation upon this topic. It is important for you to realize that a large portion of Ethics have natural and innate constraints as defined by society. Therefore, there should only be a few, relatively speaking, areas where Ethics, or the question of Ethics is appropriate for data.

A distinction the book doesn't cover is that of innate privacy or personal privacy at all actually; very little. There is nothing un-ehtical or ethical in regards to innate privacy, as it exists with distinction by default. An example would be our Medical Records. As our records are being continually digitized, it is certainly becoming Big Data. However, what's innate about Ethics in this respect is EVERYONE feels their information is private. Therefore, there isn't a need to address the Ethics. Let's put aside conspiracy theory and potential for abuse as Ethics do not restrain those whom exploit in the first place. Medical Records is only an example. There are, indeed many more.

The question I want to ask is: What Big Data is actually subject to the standardization of Ethics? Which is contrary to the very definition of Ethics. "Ethics is the means in which we explore our personal morality". And I do mean, explore. As, our Ethics are subject to change, throughout history, Ethics is a moving target. Example. Roman Colosseum; Man vs. Beast etc. The books title is superfluous, a better title might have been: Privacy Practices for Big Data, or: Big Data, Business and You…

As you can see it is a passionate subject, as I find myself getting off track. That is a good example of what this book might illicit within yourself; questions of practice and judgement.

Using the example of Instagram and their photo debacle, was it ethical for them to post this information in their Terms of Use? Yes; it certainly was, and they did. While you may not like their decision, they were ethical in my opinion. You have a choice to use their service or not, they were honest in their intent. You may argue that the decision by them to claim ownership of your photos is un-ehtical. Is it? Is it really? They are a service that you choose to use, they have terms that they define, and you, need to abide by them, when choosing to use their service. That certainly seems ethical to myself. I can hear a few of you saying that Ethics should apply even when choice exists. That maybe so for some, but I am unconvinced. I acknowledge that Instagram wouldn't exist without users, and their decisions should be beneficial for themselves and for their users, However, it remains your choice to use their service.

Back to the book. If you want a Primer in regards to Big Data and some questions you should likely be asking yourself as a practitioner, this is a good start. I didn't seek information on the author until after I read the book. In my mind I kept saying, hopefully this author is a philosophy major or I am going to be a little agitated. Indeed the author does have a degree in philosophy. I can keep my criticism to a minimum.

This book was provided free, for purpose of review from O'Reilly Media