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June 13, 2016
New data ethics guidelines help organizations build digital trust
By: Steven C. Tiell

Data ethics are critical to the digital economy. Yet little guidance exists today for practitioners in this relatively new field. Accenture has just released a new report aimed at helping guide security executives and data practitioners in implementing ethical practices across their data supply chains. We are excited to begin sharing the culmination of two years of collaboration between researchers both inside and outside of Accenture, brought together by their passion to have a positive impact on society and business in the digital age.

The result is a body of work that explores many of the nuances of data ethics, from how consent is granted during data disclosures to the language and taxonomies used to describe the field. In every research track, we focused on actions professionals and practitioners can take to raise the ethical bar in the work they do. We considered all sectors of the economy—not just business actors, but the public sector and civil society organizations as well. In fact, the recognition that humanitarian groups are at the center of the most thought-provoking and life-threatening data use cases was a constant reminder that this work can save lives and needs urgent attention.

In all, nearly two dozen experts came together—some from Accenture Labs and Accenture Security and many from leading organizations such as the World Economic Forum, The Data Guild, Ethical Resolve, Causeit, Centre for Information Policy Leadership, Social Impact Lab, Stanford University, and University of Washington, among others.

The report, available at www.accenture.com/DataEthics, focuses on the role of data ethics in the digital economy and offers practical guidance for organizations seeking to design, improve and enforce more ethical data practices.  By introducing a data supply chain framework and terminology, it sets the stage for analyzing ethical decision points and implementing ethical controls at different points of the supply chain:

Data Ethics

The main report also offers guiding principles for creating a code of ethics and best practices for data sharing. It will be followed by six white papers providing a deeper look at specific data ethics issues.  Once this body of work is published, data science professionals and practitioners will not only have comprehensive lists of specific, tactical actions they can take to improve their ethical postures, they will also have the context to engage in informed discussions with colleagues, consumers, and their boards. With data fast becoming every bit as much of a liability as it is a strategic asset, these capabilities are critical. At the same time, regulatory oversight is not only increasing in scope and penalties, but also in its heterogeneous mix across borders. We encourage organizations to take a proactive, rather than a reactive, approach to data ethics, and position themselves as industry leaders in this area of importance to every participant in the digital economy. 

If you work with data—or you’re a director of an organization that uses data—these findings are vital to your efforts and to your longevity as an organization. We are publishing the report under a creative commons with attribution license because we believe this work must be distributed, iterated, and—like all data—carry its provenance with it wherever it goes. 

We look forward to hearing about how organizations from different fields and industries are putting these data ethics guidelines to use. Please share your experiences with me at steven.c.tiell@accenture.com.

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