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What are the benefits?

Enhanced consumer trust. Faster uptake of new technologies. We examine at the positive impact of data ethics and the strategic steps that can get you there.

Consumer trust is a differentiator in the digital economy – studies show that consumers are more willing to adopt new technologies and share more data with businesses they trust.

Research by the UK Information Commissioner’s Office also shows that this becomes a virtuous circle – the more people trust businesses with their personal data, the more appealing they find their new products.

An international study in Harvard Business Review found that being transparent with customers, teaching them about data use and giving them control over their data are all key elements in building trust.

While it’s true that businesses take a huge variety of issues into account when deciding on strategy, those that build ethical principles into their data policies are likely to keep ahead of developing regulation. For example, some of the rules being introduced around AI are rooted in the human rights principles that underpin data privacy law.

A robust approach to ethics can help businesses develop clear guidelines for development and innovation, and clear messages for customers, investors, employees and other stakeholders.

The High-Level Expert Group on AI believes in an approach to AI ethics that uses fundamental rights as a stepping stone to identify abstract ethical principles and specify how concrete ethical values to be operationalised … a rights-based approach brings the additional benefit of limiting regulatory uncertainty

Yuval Noah Harari, author and historian

Four examples of ethical data strategies

Strategy 1

Innovative approaches to transparency

As the Google fine demonstrates, authorities want users know how their personal data is used. However, as technology develops, what’s happening behind the scenes is increasingly unclear. As a result, businesses might look to explore new methods of transparency that go beyond today’s ‘I agree’ privacy notices, such as:


Dashboards that give people greater control over their data preferences.

Just-in-time notices

Just-in-time notices that alert users at the point they ‘hand over’ their data and explain (clearly and concisely) what will happen next.


Icons that indicate when a certain type of data processing is taking place (eg marketing).

Enhanced functionality

Enhanced functionality on mobile or smart devices (eg vibrations, pressure-sensitive displays or swiping) that indicate when their location is being tracked, for example.

Strategy 2

Consumer-centric design

A topic of much debate at recent tech conferences, this is about putting consumers’ interests at the heart of business decision-making. By building ethical checks and balances into product development, service design and all levels of the data supply chain, businesses can ensure privacy is respected. Human-centric design is included in the EU’s recent guidance on the development of ethical AI.

Strategy 3

Data protection impact assessments

Taking an ethical approach to data protection impact statements can help businesses protect consumers and mitigate risk. Data protection impact assessments are required under the GDPR in certain high-risk situations (for example systematic or extensive profiling, data matching (combining data from multiple sources) and some forms of tracking individuals’ location or behaviour).

Strategy 4

Data ethics policy

Articulating your organisation’s approach to data ethics has numerous benefits, including influencing your corporate culture, demonstrating your values to your customers, building consumer trust and acting as a guide for those at the front line to follow. A data ethics policy can be supported by committees and management structures that help support accountability and governance in decision-making. Thinking clearly about what your organisation’s goals and direction should be with data as technology advances can also be useful from an investment and business development perspective.

Ethics is at the root of privacy and is the future of data protection. In my view, this is the way forward. There must be convergence

Elizabeth Denham, UK Information Commissioner

Further insights on data ethics

Data ethics explained