Big Data requires ethical foresight

Posted by Justin Hesser on December 10, 2013

Big Data has transformed companies. Industries from sports to farming have taken advantage of the unparalleled efficacy afforded by sophisticated analytical models. On a societal level, previously intractable problems have been addressed through use of large-scale information, a unique benefit to the modern proliferation of data.

But it comes with a responsibility.

A recent article in the Stanford Law Review highlighted this point. In it, authors Neil Richards and Jonathan King called for a greater social understanding of the best time to use Big Data. Richards and King implore authorities to use information responsibly, noting that is the key to getting the most social benefit from it.

"Recognizing the paradoxes of big data, which show its perils alongside its potential, will help us to better understand this revolution. It may also allow us to craft solutions to produce a revolution that will be as good as its evangelists predict," they write. 

One important facet is transparency. It is not enough simply for companies to know more about their customers. The customers should in turn know that their information is being collected and be able to make a reasoned choice about it. While privacy is still an important and valuable concern—you don't need to disclose all of your sales figures to anybody that happens to be shopping in your store—if you are judging a person based on a given basis, it is generally advisable that they at least know what your criteria are. In addition, it is incumbent upon government and technology leaders to improve their products as much as possible — something the FileMaker service continues to strive for with each new product. 

Richards and King are also quick to note the inherent power of information sharing, citing the Arab Spring protestor's ability to organize quickly and efficiently. In response, however, the Syrian regime secretly used internet-mining practices to punish dissent, a departure from ethical practice of Big Data. Thus, we see that the goals behind the usage of these tactics is crucial in determining whether they are right. 

In the end, analytics are a positive force, and a tool for change not only in business but also in society. However, it is up to the person gathering and using the information to deploy it positively. If your company is using FileMaker fairly, transparently and safely, it is contributing to best practices.