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Issue 10, October 2012

Power, reach of analytics pose new ethical dilemmas

There is an increasingly strong ethical dimension to technology design and use. Now that technical advancements have eased so many barriers for users, the question of how to accomplish something with technology is being replaced by this: “What do we do with all that power?” One area that’s particularly susceptible to ethical issues is analytics. Let’s explore some examples. Imagine you are an insurance company analyst, and you read that sitting in front of a computer too long can lead to neck and back problems. You've also been part of initiating a very successful customer community on your company's website. After registering on the community site, customers can discuss and rate medical specialists or peruse a large collection of information on health and diet best practices. In a moment of creativity, you decide to write a software program to track which customers spend the most time on the website, and you correlate that information with the claims data in the company’s data warehouse. Indeed, you find a correlation: Those ...

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