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Tech Chats: Data ethics with EY’s Ian Williamson

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We sat down with Ian Williamson, a director in EY’s Tech Law team, to discuss what data ethics is and why companies of all sizes need to bear it in mind. Check out the video and read the article below to find out more.

Why data ethics should be on your radar

As a lawyer, you might expect me just to focus on what businesses need to do to avoid breaking laws relating to data – particularly the Data Protection Act. However, data ethics is a much wider topic than just legal compliance. It is about the ethical considerations that organisations should take into account when considering their data collection, use and monetisation. In other words, legal compliance (although essential) is only one piece of the jigsaw in the way organisations think about data. The key question organisations should consider is: “Just because the law allows us to use data in a particular way, should we?”

Data is an incredibly valuable resource, and it can be exploited in a number of ways to make money. However, businesses do not typically pursue profits at any costs, and many decisions which impact profitability are taken for ethical reasons. For example, many organisations decide to pay staff the ‘living wage’ rather than the minimum wage – or insist on corporate social responsibility standards which are costly to implement, and which go much further than pure legal compliance.

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Ethical considerations

The key point for organisations is that they at least think about which ethical considerations should impact on that organisation’s use of data. Of course, after considering this, the organisation may decide that it’s enough to just comply with the letter of the law. However, if the organisation fails to consider data ethics, it runs the risk of having an inconsistent approach across the business – and even potentially harm the business.

Individuals are becoming more and more aware of the value in their data, and ethical considerations could drive consumer sentiment in ways not seen before. The need to adapt is important, as behaviours that were acceptable a few years ago may not be in the future. We think that proactively engaging with data ethics will give a company competitive advantage, by helping to protect against reputational risk and build stakeholder trust.

I recently co-authored a whitepaper on data ethics, which can be found on the EY Legal Services website. It is aimed at organisations of all sizes, and explains why those organisations should consider data ethics when making decisions about data. It also explains the key benefits of having a data ethics strategy, such as ensuring that the organisation maintains a positive perception in the market.

EY has also developed a Data Ethics Navigator app, currently in beta stage. This presents a number of trade-offs and dilemmas companies will likely face when deciding how to get the most out of data. For example, stakeholder value vs. revenue, and transparency vs. practicality. The app allows a business to self-assess its position on these trade-offs, and apply this to the business in a practical way.

For more information or if you’d like to test out the Data Ethics Navigator app, please contact Ian via iwilliamson@uk.ey.com.

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