Do Civil Society's Data Practices Call for New Ethical Guidelines?: A Provocation
11 Pages Posted: 23 Mar 2017
Date Written: September 1, 2014
Every day, news headlines tell us about Facebook users upset over the latest changes to the terms of service, or American citizens seeking to learn more about the National Security Agency’s data collection and analysis. These debates feature similar questions: What data should be stored, and for how long? How should people be notified about data collection, storage, and use? How should data be kept secure? What should be done in the event of a data breach? Who should be held liable for data security? Should data be shared with third parties? Who owns the collected data? The list goes on.
As we struggle with these questions, it is worth considering whether our answers ought to vary depending on whether the data collector is a government body, a business, or a member of civil society. In other areas of life, we routinely make distinctions between government activity, private activity done for profit, and private activity done for the public benefit – distinctions, that is, between the public, private, and independent sectors. Do these distinctions make a difference for the ethics of data collection and use? To many of us, it matters whether the entity collecting data is the National Security Agency or Google. Should it also make a difference if the entity is a non-profit such as, say, Wikipedia, Khan Academy, Crisis Text Line, or the Digital Public Library of America? If it does matter, then we may need separate ethical guidelines for commercial data use, government data use, and nonprofit data use.
Note: [This brief paper was prepared as a opening provocation for an event hosted by Stanford's Center for Philanthropy and Civil Society.]
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