The Value of Data in the Digital Economy and Data Ethics

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Data-driven innovation has the potential to push forward Scotland’s economy but, to take advantage of this, we must establish data ethics.

Data is a powerful tool that can be used to create a relatively accurate picture of an individual’s life – from energy consumption to biometric data, such as a fingerprint. Data insights can be harnessed to deliver huge benefits to society, but could it also have a devastating impact on people?

The Direct Marketing Association (DMA) has created a Value of Data campaign, led by DMA Scotland, to “reshape the understanding” of the true worth of information and explore the ethical questions surrounding the use of data. Some of the issues covered in the project include how the professional world can harness data to create a fairer society, and how frameworks can be constructed to ensure ethics are considered.

Companies are keen to gather data but, in doing so, they also take on a significant amount of responsibility, which many are only now beginning to understand. Before the implementation of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the UK Data Protection Bill, the use of data was regulated to a lower standard.

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But, as data and its usage becomes a more mainstream topic, the DMA believes that companies should also be aware that, if they are caught mishandling or misusing data, they are likely to lose their customers’ trust. To maintain that trust they must know and understand community norms, according to Chris Speed, Chair of Design Informatics at the University of Edinburgh.

Speed, Chair of Design Informatics at the University of Edinburgh, the three key principles for the use of data should be; Data must be good and benefit others; it should be inclusive so that everyone shares the same values of its worth; and how we obtain, process and manage data must be fair.

At a reception hosted recently by the DMA at the Scottish Parliament, Jamie Hepburn MSP, Minister for Business, Fair Work and Skills, said: “We must ensure we operate in an environment in which we have faith. Rarely a day goes by without us seeing data in the news. But often we see data in the news for negative reasons.

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“We can help change this by bringing the public with us, through getting respect for the safe and ethical use of data. Using data ethically isn’t a barrier to using data effectively. It’s the only sustainable way of maintaining public trust and secure the benefits of big data.”

Finlay Carson MSP, shadow digital minister, commented: “Data is leading the fourth industrial revolution. Scotland has led the other three previously, and there’s no doubt that with quality of data and fintech companies we have, we’re in the position to take the country forward. And, absolutely, we can be leaders not just in Europe but across the world.”

With Scotland’s growing global reputation as one of the major tech hubs of Europe, it is uniquely placed to become a centre of excellence for data ethics, according to the DMA. But, to achieve this status Scotland must continue to drive innovation, attract the best talent, cultivate innovation and actively engage in the debate over the value of data. Furthermore, the public must be included in this discussion and not made to feel disenfranchised when it comes to the use of their data.



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