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Ethics of Big Data by Doug Patterson, Kord Davis

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Chapter 3. Current Practices

I have always thought the actions of men the best interpreters of their thoughts.

John Locke

Data can be useful or anonymous, but never both.

Paul Ohm“Broken Promises of Privacy: Responding to the Surprising Failure of Anonymization,” UCLA Law Review 57, p. 1702

If ethical practices are the result of ethical inquiry, then how do those practices show up in business today?

This chapter explores findings from primary and secondary research, including direct one-on-one interviews with industry thought leaders and practitioners working at companies who use big data.

Reading the privacy policies and other statements available on the websites of most organizations is a great way to understand how data-handling practices are showing up in the world today: they’re free, available to anyone on the Web, and, although often written in fairly legal language, generally state in somewhat accessible terms what policies an organization follows when handling data.

We reviewed the public-facing policy statements of the top 50 Fortune 500 corporations to better understand the current state of affairs of data-handling practices and how they relate to users, consumers, and others.[2] The process included identifying specific policy elements across a number of data handling practices.

Examples include:

  • Whether data would be sold without consent

  • If target advertising was utilized

  • How much control customers had over the usage of their data

  • Whether data would be purchased from other organizations ...

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