Lists of Ethical, Legal, Societal and Economic Issues of Big Data Technologies
Custers B.H.M., La Fors K., Jozwiak M., Keymolen E., Bachlechner D., Friedewald, M. & Aguzzi S. (2017) Lists of ethical, legal, societal and economic issues of big data technologies. Report. Leiden: Leiden University.
109 Pages Posted: 28 Jan 2018 Last revised: 4 Jun 2018
Date Written: August 31, 2017
The main aim of this report is to identify and analyse the most relevant ethical, legal, societal and economic issues implicated by the development of big data technologies. With this purpose in mind, each distinctive perspective approaches the technological innovation brought about by big data technologies from a different angle.
First, the ethical perspective contains a comprehensive review of different ethical outlooks: moral philosophy, philosophy of technology and biomedical ethics which provide the guidelines for developing a list of values that are useful to shape an ethical perspective on big data technologies for all stakeholders. The ethical issues mapped particularly concern these values to the extent they are under pressure by the developments in big data technologies. The selection was primarily guided by the views on technology development from a virtue ethics perspective. The ethical issues identified are: human welfare, autonomy, non-maleficence, justice (including equality, non-discrimination, digital inclusion), accountability (including transparency), trustworthiness (including honesty and underpinning also security), privacy, dignity, solidarity and environmental welfare.
Second, the legal perspective focuses on the lists of human rights derived from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights (the EU Charter), which together constitute the main legal framework for the EU in the field of human rights. The rights of particular relevance in the context of big data technologies are the rights to private and family life, personal data protection, freedom of expression and information, freedom of assembly and association, non-discrimination, fair trial and consumer protection. By analysing the normative scope of each of these human rights, looking at both legislation and case law of the European courts and the way in which big data technologies challenge different aspects of each human right at stake, the legal part distils the list of the most relevant issues at the nexus of big data technologies and human rights in the EU. The legal issues identified are: lack of transparency, vagueness of the concept of harm, accountability, proportionality, establishing a regulatory framework and the role of private actors in applying fundamental rights.
Third, the societal perspective makes use of the extensive literature on Societal Impact Assessments (SIA). The analysis of literature was combined with a review of research project propositions and complemented by discussions at two workshops. Societal impact is very generally understood as changes to one or more of a number of elements of social life: people’s way of life, their culture, their community, their political systems, their environment, their health and well-being, their personal and property and their fears and aspirations. The societal issues are mapped by examining different actors and distinctions between these actors, by examining the relationship between data subjects and data controllers and processors, and by examining the risk and impact of potential abuses of big data technologies. On top of the SIA approach, a survey of literature on societal issues in the context of big data technologies identified data culture, data quality, analytics methodology and visualisation as related aspects, essential to understand societal issues and to develop means to address them. The societal issues identified are: unequal access, normalisation, discrimination, dependency, intrusiveness, non-transparency and abusiveness.
Fourth, the economic perspective mainly builds on the societal perspective, as the societal perspective already includes business-to-business and business-to-consumer relations. Societal issues may affect community capital, which may include human capital, social capital, political capital and cultural capital. Natural and physical capital are outside the scope of this deliverable. Due to this close relationship between the societal and the economic perspective, many of the societal issues also include economic aspects and, as such, societal and economic issues cannot always be clearly distinguished. Therefore, the starting point for listing the economic issues are the societal issues derived from the SIA analysis, with an emphasis on economic aspects. There are no economic issues that are not societal issues at the same time. The economic issues identified are: unequal access (including the shortage of a skilled workforce and the creation of a new digital divide), normalisation, discrimination, dependency, intrusiveness, non-transparency and abusiveness.
Observing the four lists of issues identified, the following conclusions can be drawn: • Although there is some overlap in issues from the different perspectives, this does not mean that the overlapping issues are the same from each perspective – each perspective simply shows different aspects of each issue. • The list of issues identified is very extensive, but not exhaustive. The rapid changes in big data technologies call for periodic updates of identification of issues. • The issues identified are hard to prioritize, as this may be context-dependent and many issues are interconnected. • The issues identified should not only or merely be regarded as problems to be solved, but rather as providing the goals to strive for. An attitude of continuous attention is required for these issues.
These conclusions call for further work. The inventory in this deliverable may require periodic updates after some time. Furthermore, balancing and prioritizing the issues identified is hard in abstracto and may, therefore, call for more detailed, context-specific approaches. Finally, because many of these issues cannot be solved once and forever, an attitude of continuous attention for these issues is called for.
Keywords: big data, ethics, data protection
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