Data Ethics Philosophy and ethics of big data  
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What is Data Ethics?


Data ethics weighs privacy against convenience: Which is worth more? When? Why?


The experience of data ethics is nervousness about personal information escaping our control. Equally, it's satisfactions facilitated by information algorithms. Finally, it’s a sense of anxiety about how much of ourselves we should give up for the conveniences of digital reality.



  • We reveal our dimensions and passions to Tinder, and find romance by swiping a screen.
  • We report our condition to SymptomChecker, and get diagnosed without enduring a waiting room.
  • We allow Verizon to know where we are at every moment, and we’re always able to text and talk, no matter where we are.
Underneath each exchange runs a dilemma between protecting our identity, and satisfying our desires. Privacy versus convenience is a split between who we are and what we want.

The field of data ethics: algorithmic capitalism


Data ethics centers on consumers and marketing because that's where the trade of personal information for convenience is most direct. Then data ethics extends as the concept of algorithmic capitalism: it happens everywhere individuals and their desires interact with churning big data and money.


Investigations of data ethics


The fundamental questions are perennial, but subject to reconfiguration by emergent technologies:


Dilemmas and paradoxes of data ethics


The most efficient way to test an algebraic equation is by checking the extremes. That means plugging in 0, 1, -1, , - . Then you plug in an extremely unexceptional number, like 6, and if the equation works for all those, it should be good.


Philosophy and ethics rarely achieve the elegant simplicity of numbers, but the strategy of extreme cases typically provides insight. In the field of data ethics, some questions on the edge:

  • What is absolute privacy? Is it possible to physically live an entirely private life?
  • What would transparent existence be like: how would you spend your time if everyone knew everything about you?
    • How could you become transparent: what would you need to do to entirely eliminate your own privacy?
  • Privacy is about identity and desires, but does our identity create our desires (we want what we are), or do our desires create our identity (we become what we want)?
  • What is pure convenience? What would that kind of existence look like?
    • Does a desire exist if it's fulfilled before you know you have it?
    • If there's no inconvenience, can there still be convenience?

Data ethics versus data politics


Data ethics is about individuals. The concerns are personal – even about what it means to be a person – and the decisions are singular: what works for one may not function for another.

  • Data ethics tends to involve people understanding themselves, their desires, and pleasures within the context of the information economy.


Data politics is about societies; it investigates how collectives manage information for the general welfare, and it seeks to implement binding rules with either rational justification, or psychological techniques of persuasion.

  • Data politics tends to involve the shaping of a collective by one or another conception of fairness or justice., within the context of the information society.


Data ethics is about individuals in society; data politics is about societies that contain individuals. There is some overlap.


Data ethics in history


The historical context of data ethics is emergent technologies gathering and processing personal information at rates surpassing human comprehension: the numbers measuring us, the words describing us, and the desires impelling us are increasingly stripped away, then digitized, organized, and applied to our lives.


Data ethics begins when the volume and velocity of applied personal information exceeds imagination, and consequently jeopardizes the traditional philosophical and ethical models for evaluating privacy, identity, desire, convenience, and pleasure.

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