Chapter 2. Values and Actions

People must have righteous principles in the first, and then they will not fail to perform virtuous actions.

Martin Luther

Asking ethical questions in business contexts can feel unusual at best and uncomfortable at worst. But as noted in the previous chapter, big data, like all technology, is ethically neutral. Technology does not come with a built-in perspective on what is right or wrong or good or bad when using it. Whereas big data is ethically neutral, the use of big data is not. Individuals and corporations are the only ones who can answer those questions, and so it’s important to work past any discomfort.

And while big data represents both tremendous opportunity (in the form of new products and services) for broad business and social benefit, the opposite side of that coin is that it also represents serious risk. Finding and maintaining a balance between the benefits of innovation and the detriments of risks is, in part, a function of ethical inquiry.

Developing a capability to find and maintain that balance is partially ethical because of the essential nature of the technology itself. Digital business transactions (such as buying things online) and digital social interactions (such as sharing photos on social networks) inherently capture information related to, but distinct from, the data itself.

For example, showing your nephew’s picture to a friend at a holiday party leaves a faint, shallow record of that event that exists only in your memory and ...

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