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ODI Leeds

Data Ethics: Project Check In

Loosely dubbed an exploration, our latest project focuses on Data Ethics. If you want to know more about that topic as a whole, you can check out our recent blog post on the subject; Data Ethics : A Starting Point.

Data Ethics is a concept that has become increasingly prevalent in the past few years, and increasingly onerous at the same time. There is an awful lot of stuff out there on this topic, from huge and lengthy legislative acts, to various frameworks telling you just how to be data 'ethical'. ODI Leeds has undertaken to find out what's out there, what's being said and ultimately, if anything has been done. We've split the project into 3, 2-week sprints. Along the way, we'll publish what we find in a few different ways. Everything we research and investigate will be compiled into an open Google spreadsheet, which you can find here:ODILeeds Data Ethics Resource Collection. We'll also be tweeting @ODILeeds with any resources we find that are particularly useful, and to collaborate with others working and investigating this field. Finally, we'll also be publishing blogs like these, with more concrete updates and opinions on what we've found and what we've thought about what we've found.

So, 2 weeks or so in, where are we at? We've investigated quite a lot of different materials in this area. Our research was split into 3 divisions, these being:

  • Legislation and Explanatory Resources
  • Corporate/Business/Organisation Reports and Frameworks
  • Academic Commentary/Analysis

Our first finding is that this is indeed a deep trench, and there's not exactly much coherence to everything, beyond the big swathes of data protection legislation. In some ways, this confirmed some of our first thoughts/fears about this area, that quite a lot of this stuff might be all talk and no trousers. So, to help us find some more substance in our research, we thought that instead of focusing on negative protective ethics, we might instead look at positive, facilitative solutions. We added some new categories to our resources collection, investigating solutions and useful fixes to data ethics issues, and new ideas that involve using your rights rather than making sure they aren't violated.

One key concept in this area is the idea of 'Data Unions'. This a very recent development, arising in the past year or so, with Shiv Malik being a major pioneer in the area. He spoke about the 'future of data monetisation' at our Northernlands 3 event in early 2021. Essentially, a Data Union is a way of 'crowdselling' your data. Every time you use a streaming or browser service, Google and others package up your data and sell them to data buyers. With a Data Union, you can make money from these sales and control who you sell your data to, packaged together with others to make a more attractive product. This is a positive approach to data and ethics, utilising rights to empower and profit, and an approach that has been backed up by the EU in recent legislative developments. Look out for much more on this in the coming weeks.

We're going to keep looking into everything on this subject, before we narrow down our research for our second burst. We'll figure out which frameworks and tests are useful, and pull in professionals to help with our research and to assess varying opinions on this area. After that, we'll decide what we want to do about Data Ethics.

If this post interests you, or you think you'd like to get involved or have something useful to tell us about, please get in touch!