E-Handbook:

Ethical data mining and analytics elude privacy, usage snafus

BACKGROUND IMAGE: leszekglasner/Fotolia

Customer data isn't just something to be mined and exploited

To analytics consultant Donald Farmer, the term data mining makes customer data sound like "a resource to be exploited." But that doesn't mesh well with modern notions of privacy rights and data ethics, in Farmer's view.

"Data isn't an extractive asset," he said in a session at the 2019 Pacific Northwest BI & Analytics Summit in Grants Pass, Ore. "Data is increasingly an expression of us. Your data, to a certain extent, is you." As a result, he added, companies can't afford to ignore ethical data mining and analytics practices if they want to avoid possible missteps with customers.

That doesn't mean stopping analytics efforts in their tracks, but it does require data scientists and other users to think about what they do with the data they mine, according to Jacob Metcalf, a researcher at the Data & Society Research Institute and founding partner of consulting firm Ethical Resolve.

"I think we can see creeping around the edges what a data dystopia looks like, but the solution to that isn't giving up the data economy. It's figuring out what our values are and what governance structures are available to us," Metcalf said in a Q&A published in November 2018 by the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University.

This handbook looks at how to put ethical data mining into practice. First, Farmer differentiates between governance, compliance and ethics and offers advice on how to address each in analytics applications. Next, we report in more detail on the data ethics discussion he led at the Oregon conference. We close with a Q&A on steps for managing and mining data in ethical ways.

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