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What do we mean by data ethics?

There is no single definition of what ‘data ethics’ means. However at a high level, it is about the application of value judgements and a moral prism to the way data is used. Although many of the concepts are based on personal data laws they extend beyond personal information, and encompass principles borrowed from human rights legislation and philosophy.

Data ethics… is similar to the dawn of the environmental movement. We are beginning to wake up to the downsides of this amazing resource called data that everybody loves to compare to oil or gold.

Pernille Tranberg, data ethicist

What’s driving the data economy?

What’s driving the data economy?

What’s driving the data economy?

Advanced analytics 

Advanced analytics can make sense of the vast array of data harvested from our internet and social network activity as well as from emerging technologies such as chatbots and artificial personal assistants. They can help businesses optimise their processes and supply chains, and market and price their products and services. They are also used to determine financial credit and predict crime.

5G connectivity

5G connectivity will ramp up internet bandwidth and, along with rapid improvements in sensor technology, will turbocharge the Internet of Things, autonomous systems and robotics, AI and consumer devices.



At the same time, new technologies are being developed that massively increase our ability to process data.

Quantum computers

which use the principles of quantum mechanics to perform multiple calculations at once – could be a million times faster than traditional processors.

Data by numbers



Accuracy with which an algorithm could identify anonymised Twitter users based just on metadata



Number of bonus points Chinese citizens get if they perform ‘good deeds’, as part of the country’s big data-based social credit system



Number of Americans who say being in control of who can access their data is important

Those who rule data will rule the world.

Masayoshi Son, CEO, Softbank

There are well-defined legal obligations that relate to the use and protection of data, particularly when that data identifies an individual.

However, technology is developing so fast that law and regulation – despite authorities’ best efforts – is often one step behind. As a result, many businesses are starting to develop ethical frameworks to govern their decisions around data use. Rapid developments in our ability to collect and analyse data offer huge potential for business.

But just because we can do something with data, it doesn’t necessarily mean we should. These ethical frameworks go beyond compliance and ensure companies stay ahead of regulatory developments and build consumer trust. While much of the debate centres on personal data, it is important to understand that it goes further than this. Machine learning algorithms for example can be put to unethical or irresponsible use, despite being trained to ‘think’ on anonymous data

Further insights on data ethics

Data ethics explained