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The Digital-Data Ethics Issues Are Metastasizing – And Costly

Well before last week’s Facebook and Twitter market shockers, the giant digital tech companies were warned:


“Tech companies have been acting with impunity and a lack of accountability … despite the outcry from the public and lawmakers.”

“Digital technology has made the world very fast and very transparent, but it raises fears around privacy.”

There is momentum for the industry to really start paying attention to what the ethical implications of technology are.”

 “This new ethical frontier offers a way to engender trust and provide vital differentiation in a crowded marketplace … by integrating a wide array of data ethics practices throughout their data supply chain.”


Those are some of the money quotes from for-profit and non-profit experts alike in the new Ethical Corporation Mike Scott report, “The Future of Digital on Reputation” .The report is part of a knowledge exchange for the forthcomig San Diego 2nd Responsible Business Summit West (Nov. 13 -14).  

Acknowledging that digital data is no longer accepted as an unalloyed good, (ranging from consumer data misused to fears of AI job losses, etc.), Scott points to remedies recently presented by Accenture: “Companies looking to get on top of their data issues need to have discussions about informed consent, the nature of harm and universal principles for data ethics.”

Scott also notes that such issues are not limited to the tech behemoths providing digital data services: “… the rest of the economy is increasingly adopting digital technologies and is just starting to recognize that it may be exposed to greater risks than before it switched.”

But the lion’s share of the digital-data ethics burden lies with the historically-new species of companies at the center of these issues — behemoths such as Google, Facebook and Twitter. They represent a new stage of business evolution that is generating or magnifying existential issues such as personal privacy, truth vs. “fake news” and the subtle, addictive psychological effects on users of their products.

Similarly challenged are the wave of companies developing and/or applying Artificial Intelligence, potentially or actually causing job displacements, vast economic and safety issues and use in anti-social applications such as weaponry.

What are the social responsibilities of these companies? How are they being met? What does a company owe to its country – and society?

Early responses: To be fair, some of the digital tech giants are beginning to address their unique social responsibilities – sometimes under regulatory duress or pressure from employees, investors or customers. [Recently, the European Union fined Google $5.1 billion for business practices.] 

A sampling:

On data protection and user privacy, the data leviathans are sprinting to comply with the European Union’s new “Data Protection Regulation.”

Facebook recently hired an additional 10,000 “news curators” to remove objectionable content.

A Twitter co-founder is addressing the data industry’s concerns over “the addictive qualities of popular internet services”

Largely because of employees’ demands, Google is phasing out a contract with the U.S. military.

And Microsoft employees have launched a virtual workplace revolt over the company’s relationship with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

 Still, the overriding social responsibility, ethical challenges remain. In sum:

“It is imperative for business today to take a serious approach to managing digital ethics. The Facebook/Cambridge Analytics investigation is sending shockwaves to all business operating in the digital world. Meeting regulations is no longer good enough. There is a business need to go beyond compliance, to go beyond GDPR [European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation] to ensure trust and reputation stays intact.”

 Krina Amin, Head of Strategy, Ethical Corporation.