Council forms to help software developing companies use Big Data ethically

Posted by Justin Hesser on November 19, 2013

Big data has been making big news, and software developing companies aren’t the only ones taking note. The increased ease of collecting and analyzing large amounts of information has caught the attention of academics.

One major concern for these researchers is the ethicality of collection processes. Thus, they decided to form a council, partially in response to the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) request for innovative projects in the field.

The Council for Big Data, Ethics and Society will meet for the first time in 2014, and will include contribution from the NSF. Co-directing the efforts will be Microsoft researchers Kate Crawford and Danah Boyd and two computer-science-savvy professors: Geoffrey Bowker from the University of California, Irvine, and Helen Nissenbaum of New York University.

Fen Zhao, and NSF staffer, described the need for a project like this in an interview with Venture Beat.

“We’re doing all of these major investments in next-generation internet (projects), in big data,” said Fen. “How do we in the research-and-development phase make sure they’re aware and cognizant of any issues that may come up?”

The council hopes to guide future researchers in proactively considering the ethical implications of work they might pursue. Rather than a blanket edict on what practices are “good” or “bad”, it hopes to work with methodologies that are appropriate for specific projects. The group doesn’t want to constantly stifle innovation: rather, it hopes to guide new ideas forward in a way that is consistent with big-picture ideals.

The timing is perfect. As more and more software developing companies discover the efficacy of large-scale data operations, this outside council will enable creative thinking while helping to provide a moral framework.