There isn’t a blog post nowadays without someone saying this: “All companies are data companies.” And it’s absolutely true. Data has become the pillar of business society and something people trade with. Information in the digital age has become somewhat of a gold mine. But, with each piece of information comes the hot topic of data ethics.
Data provides a lot. All the opportunities are almost unfathomable. But, each process of this data utilization comes at a price, a price for companies, and a price for consumers. Especially in today’s world, we provide so much information about ourselves and often don’t think about what happens with that data. We buy services and products where we are obliged to provide certain information and we as consumers take that as a necessary step to acquire those services or products.
What do data ethics entail
Data ethics focuses on the ethical exploration of data in terms of collecting, generating, analyzing, and using data, whether personal or business. It proposes a set of rules and guidances to manage data in a manner that lies on ethical foundations. Gartner defines “data ethics” as a system of values and moral principles related to the responsible collection, use, and sharing of data.
With data collection and personal information, it is integral to comply with moral and ethical rules so the customer who shared said data feels comfortable with his data usage. Transparency is key, and each person should know what his data is being utilized for and how.
It might seem that the market and all the data are free-for-all kinds of environments, but we couldn’t be more wrong. Besides governmental laws and regulations which protect data, consumers are more and more educated on how their personal information is being used. Consumers ask more questions and sometimes they can be wary of which information are they willing to share. Data analysts, scientists, and engineers hold data ethics in the highest regard and they have to be careful how they handle data.
This has shaped how companies behave as well. With data democratization being a frontrunner in data trends, they need to carefully compose rules and foster a culture that is oriented towards data ethics. Companies with a well-defined ethics culture can react easier to data mishaps or misuse. For example, in case of data leakage, they can respond much faster and communicate with consumers about what happened and how they are going to fix it. This, in turn, creates a bigger level of trust in the company. Data ethics culture can also be a great technique for creating strong brand awareness and trustworthiness.
Core data ethics principles
Individual control of data
Each person is the owner of their own data and this must be established early on. Private data belongs to the person it originated from. They choose when and how they want to distribute and share that information. At each point, consumers or users have to allow others to use their data, by consenting to policies, cookies, terms and conditions, and so on. It is unlawful and unethical to use someone’s data without their consent and without them being informed of it.
Each person has the right to know how their data is being used. Companies need to be transparent with their methods and intentions. People, whose data is the subject, need to have the right to decline to share their data if they think it will be misused.
Data is private and people who share that information must be ensured of their privacy. Countries have laws that protect that privacy. Each person must be informed if their data is being sold to third parties. In most cases, data must be anonymized and not connected to an individual person. Data can be used to describe patterns and trends, but it shouldn’t be linked to one specific person. For companies, it is integral that data is stored in secured databases and that no one, without authorization, can access it.
Accountability refers to the company’s sustainable and ethical use of data. Those are the foundations on which data utilization is built. It’s how companies respond to data protection and which tools, rules, and guidelines they have implemented in order to achieve that data privacy.
Often, in data analysis and methods and algorithms implementation, we can encounter unintentional bias. Sometimes, personal data is used based on predefined notions and stereotypes. This is why there must not be any ethnical, racial, or gender biases. If data is used to personally target consumers, it must not be based on the above-mentioned characteristics. This is why the data ethics cultural board needs to be diverse and inclusive.
How do data ethics build brand value and trustworthiness?
If a company has built a great data ethics culture, it can be transferred to the brand value. Building strategies around the creation of a safe data environment and ensuring that customers are aware of that can increase the trust in that brand. Data privacy policies and ethical guidelines can promote the company as highly secure and respectful to consumers and their personal data.
Even employing data scientists and data engineers who work diligently to ensure data protection, is a step in the right direction. Such services go beyond everything to ensure that data is utilized properly and in line with the company rules and regulations.
But what can we outline as the biggest benefits of establishing data ethics and how a company handles data?
A more positive brand perception
Companies or brands that can brag about their extensive and stable data ethics culture, can create a more positive perception in the eyes of a broader public. If they are known as a secure company that doesn’t misuse or endanger private information, customers would be more inclined to share that positive perception with others.
Bigger conversion rate and new customer acquisition
A trustworthy brand can more easily attract or convert new customers. It can also sell additional products or services to existing ones. Because imagine, would you rather take your business to a company where you know there won’t be any infraction of your personal data, or to someone who is not so reliable?
Increased brand awareness
If a company builds up its image as someone trustworthy and reliable, it will also emphasize brand awareness. Good word travels fast and positive word of mouth will come to fruition. Very quickly can companies and their brands achieve positive perception if they implement and nurture a data ethics culture.
Enhanced trust in products and services
If we combine positive brand perception with already bought products or services, customers will trust the brand more if they had positive experiences. If a company uses customers’ data only to improve customer experience and satisfaction, then its data ethics are on point. But, if a company misuses data only to its advantage or for third parties, then the trust is easily gone.
An additional selling point and marketing potential
A company can effectively market its products or services based on the level of security and ethical data management they offer. Data security and privacy are extremely important today and consumers care a lot about that. When data becomes such a valuable asset, you want to protect it at all costs. That’s why companies that recognize the value of secure data as a selling point, will definitely increase their market potential.
Not only is data valuable to companies, but it’s valuable to private individuals – consumers. Some part of our identity we want to keep to ourselves. Our personalities, whether professional or personal are just that, ours. Companies that generate or collect data from their employees or customers and clients, need to tread carefully. Implementing proper rules and guidelines and data ethics is a step in the right direction. It’s actually something that should be practiced religiously.
It isn’t only a good and socially responsible practice to ethically exploit data, but it’s also a way of creating brand value and trustworthiness. Consumers trust brands that are transparent and have high corporate social responsibility. Their brand awareness and value rise with time if they showcase their ethical approach to sensitive data. In long term, only those companies will rise to the occasion when data ultimately becomes inherently priceless.