A Unified Ethical Frame for Big Data Analysis

11 Pages Posted: 5 Nov 2014

See all articles by Martin Abrams

Martin Abrams

The Information Accountability Foundation

Date Written: October 8, 2014


Big data provides unprecedented opportunities to drive information-based innovation in economies, healthcare, public safety, education, transportation and almost every human endeavour. Big data also creates risk to both individuals and society unless effective governance is in place. That governance must be sensitive to reticence, the harm to individuals when data is not used because of ambiguity on how to apply laws, standards and regulations, as well as to privacy. Governance must be holistic taking into consideration concepts of good and bad from all potential stakeholders. That means that the analysis should consider the benefits and risks to the individual, for society as a whole, and for the parties conducting big data discovery and application. Moreover, data protection requires a full understanding of the potential impact of big data on the full range of human rights, not just those related to privacy.

To establish big data governance, the Foundation believes in the need for a common ethical frame based on key values and the need for an interrogation framework. The latter consists of a set of key questions to be asked and answered to illuminate significant issues, both for industry and for those providing oversight to assess big data projects. Reviews must be from the 360-degree ethical perspective discussed above. That assessment must take into consideration all human, as well as societal and business interests and rights. In formulating a frame, we concluded the following: governance requires enforcement, big data enforcement needs to be explored by stakeholders and interrogation frameworks should be customized (at least at the industry level and possibly down to the company level).

To assure project materials are approachable, they will be broken into four parts: • Part A – Unified ethical frame; • Part B – Interrogation framework; • Part C – Enforcement discussion; • Part D – Industry interrogation models.

Parts A and B will be completed in the project’s first phase. Part C will focus on enforcement, and Part D will create examples. It is anticipated that Parts A and B will be completed in 2014 and will be shared prior to starting the later parts.

This is a living document. As we learn more, for example in creating the interrogation documents in Part D and vetting all parts with the data community, we will make changes. Future amended documents will have a new version number and date on the title page.

Keywords: big data, ethics, data governance

Suggested Citation

Abrams, Martin, A Unified Ethical Frame for Big Data Analysis (October 8, 2014). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2510934 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2510934

Martin Abrams (Contact Author)

The Information Accountability Foundation ( email )

1811 River Heights Dr.
Little Rock, AR 72202
United States

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