digital ethics and privacy in the IT industry

The evolution of digital technology and its applications has pushed the nature of business to a point of transformation. TechCrunch has revealed that Gartner, a leading source of guidance and trend information in business, has identified 2019 as the year when digital ethics and privacy, long under discussion, will become a strategic technology trend for both business and government to embrace. It’s a critical juncture as we create personal data in large volumes and want to know whom we can trust with it in both the public and private sectors. Here’s some information about the latest digital ethics and data privacy issues, from an individual perspective.

From Personal Data to Machines Making Decisions About Us

Raw data collection gathered from our actions and choices is not the only growing concern. While the increased ability to access, process and use personal data has been a clear driving force for this trend, there is another: artificial intelligence or AI. The reality is that our data may be used to influence AI-based decisions about us going forward and we can already see this change taking place in medicine. In fact, to some degree, all 10 of Gartner’s 2019 trend picks are affected by the ethics and privacy question.

Creating New Personal Information from Existing Data with AI

The challenge with AI and machine learning is that it is abstract in nature, difficult for most people to understand, and therefore harder to draw ethical lines around. “Big data” and other high-volume data processing and inference generation can create models of people’s lives and insights into their habits that are ethically challenging. Artificial intelligence, however, goes further; it can consider data and patterns and create new knowledge whose application may have far-ranging consequences on business, government and individual lives.

Personal Data Rights: An International Issue

In both AI and non-AI sectors, Gartner identifies a practical issue that will drive digital ethics policies and practices as well as data protection and privacy concerns: the consequences companies and governments will face if they inadequately address these issues. Governments have been increasing their transparency demands on business, requiring in legislation such as Europe’s GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) that individual data rights be respected.

The costs to individuals and organizations of information disclosure can produce severe financial consequences for the companies that hosted the data to compensate them for their loss. Regulatory penalties can add heavy financial burdens on top of this, and the damage to a company’s reputation for failed data security can put it out of business.

Data Brokering

Some companies have been trading in the data they gather about individuals and companies without their clear knowledge, which is a fairly new concern going beyond inadvertent disclosure. In some cases, the data involves information about their habits, preferences and other personal data from the marketing realm, while other times this “marketing data” crosses over into highly protected realms such as financial and health information.

As alarms are being sounded about how much highly personal data is being traded between companies, Gartner’s timely alarm is being sounded to remind companies that this is a time of reaction: individuals asserting their rights regarding companies’ newly disclosed actions, governments creating new restrictions and requirements, and industry ethics and digital privacy rules being designed to help avert overly restrictive government actions to regulate what business has not so far self-controlled.

Questions Remain Unanswered

All this is on the eve of advances in AI and the use of currently gathered data sets that could cross important lines in society. Healthcare operations, the movement of people between countries and the operation of international markets are a few of the large-scale targets that privacy and ethical considerations will likely address in 2019 and going forward. Technology and government leaders hope to provide constructive solutions including evolving privacy laws, but the issues themselves are still poorly defined.