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Back in 2018, Cambridge Analytica showed the world the importance of ethical data.

Media reports revealed the data firm had used Facebook data to identify personality traits and help President Trump’s 2016 election campaign influence voters based on their behaviour.

Of particular concern was a 2014 ‘personality survey’, which managed to create over 50 million user profiles, despite only 270,000 people actually completing the test. The data was arguably collected compliantly at the time, but it was unlikely that people knew how their data was being used, especially for political purposes.

Also working against Cambridge Analytica was the revelation that when asked by Facebook to delete data it had collected, the firm confirmed they had done so when they in fact had not. Further reports that Cambridge Analytica were positioning themselves as experts in ‘online manipulation’ placed greater focus on the issue.

As well as leaving Cambridge Analytica filing for insolvency and resulting in huge brand damage for Facebook, the scandal also served as a pivotal moment for ethical data.

The Alan Turing Institute defines data ethics as: “the branch of ethics that studies and evaluates moral problems related to data, algorithms and corresponding practices, in order to formulate and support morally good solutions.”

With businesses across industries relying more and more on their data strategies, there is now a clear business case for data ethics.

Accenture recently found that 81 percent of executives agree that as the business value of data grows, the risk of improper handling of data grows exponentially. Additionally, 80 percent of executives reported there was a strong demand among workers for increased ethical controls of data.

Data collection

One of the most important ethical data questions any business can ask is: “how was this data collected?”

Cornerstones of ethical data collection include: transparency, explicit consent, customer control and the ability for the customer to opt out.

Although there are now legal consequences (such as GDPR) for businesses that do not obtain customer consent when collecting data, there is also an ethical responsibility to do so.

As an example, while there is no legal limit on how much data can be collected about a customer, there is an ethical requirement to not collect more data than is required (or relevant).

Data use and personal information

At smrtr our first consideration is the law, which defines personal information as: information or an opinion about an identified individual, or an individual who is reasonably identifiable:

  1. whether the information or opinion is true or not; and
  2. whether the information or opinion is recorded in a material form or not.

So all information we manage is personal, even when we have applied analytics to create it and we must treat it as such. We have three key factors to consider when managing and using personal information:

  1. Privacy and Compliance – smrtr works with a number of trusted data partners to bring diverse data sources into one single view of Australian adults. Our contracts ensure all data providers must meet applicable privacy requirements when sourcing, using and sharing data
  2. Opt out – we enable consumers to opt out of their data being used by us and our clients
  3. Security – we use the highest level of encryption to transfer data and our cloud backend security is at the highest industry standards 

We understand more than most the power of data to drive change, for both good and bad and have policies in place regarding the types of clients we want to work with and how we can assist them. To find out how we can help utilise your data in an ethical way, please contact us and we’ll be in touch within the next business day.

By Boris Guennewig, Co-Founder and CTO at smrtr