Big Data Ethics

July 2017 | Dios Kurniawan

So you run a business, and you have a lot of customers. Thousands, or even millions of them. You hold all the customer data and their transaction history in your system, most likely in your data warehouse. You understand that you have tons of information at your fingertips and you start thinking about taking advantage of the data for making money.

Purchase behavior, mobility patterns, demographic information are the bread and butter of Big Data (photo: Dios K)

You installed Hadoop machines, and start pouring data into it to perform analysis on your customer’s demography and behavior. Examine what they purchase. Analyze their spending habits, even putting the location where your customers go into the microscope.

Before you know it, you are already crossing the boundaries between protecting your customer’s sensitive personal data and exploiting it.

There is no denying that today is the era of big data. You have got data in your hands, but the ethical question becomes: do you have the right to do anything you like with the data?

The answer is yes. But only if you protect the personally identifiable information (PII). It is the right of each customer to keep his or her private information private. In some countries, this is a legal requirement (Indonesia is a bit relaxed on this matter). The question is, do you really respect customer’s rights?

Therefore, before you perform data mining on your data, do not forget to anonymize your customer’s data. Change real names, phone numbers into hash codes and delete the actual data. Obscure sensitive information right inside the database tables.