Chapter 3. The Five Cs

What does it take to build a good data product or service? Not just a product or service that’s useful, or one that’s commercially viable, but one that uses data ethically and responsibly.

We often talk about a product’s technology or its user experience, but we rarely talk about how to build a data product in a responsible way that puts the user in the center of the conversation. Those products are badly needed. News that people “don’t trust” the data products they use—or that use them—is common. While Facebook has received the most coverage, lack of trust isn’t limited to a single platform. Lack of trust extends to nearly every consumer internet company, to large traditional retailers, and to data collectors and brokers in industry and government.

Users lose trust because they feel abused by malicious ads; they feel abused by fake and misleading content, and they feel abused by “act first, and apologize profusely later” cultures at many of the major online companies. And users ought to feel abused by many abuses they don’t even know about. Why was their insurance claim denied? Why weren’t they approved for that loan? Were those decisions made by a system that was trained on biased data? The slogan goes, “Move fast and break things.” But what if society is broken?

Data collection is a big business. Data is valuable: “the new oil,” as the Economist proclaimed. We’ve known that for some time. But the public provides the data under the assumption that we, ...

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