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Data ethics

How is data use controlled?

From regulations to non-governmental bodies, we look at attempts to raise standards of data ethics.

The EU General Data Protection Regulation (and similar regimes)

The GDPR is based around core principles of transparency and accountability.

Since it was introduced in 2018, other 'copycat' laws are taking hold in some of the world's most important jurisdictions for international businesses. Brazil has introduced a privacy law modelled closely on the GDPR, as has South Africa. China is consulting on its Personal Information Protection Law, while in the US, California has implemented its Consumar Privacy Act and a supplemental law (the California Privacy Rights Act) which brings it close to GDPR standards.

Right to explanation

The GDPR, and national legislation like France’s Digital Republic Bill, gives citizens the right to request information about algorithm-based decisions affecting their life chances.

Non-government bodies

Non-government bodies are also forming with ethics mandates like Data & Society and OpenAI.

The EU also funds fact-finding and ethical advocacy network SHERPA, which is developing, through interviews, surveys and workshops, a ‘workbook’ to guide the responsible development of smart information systems which combine AI and data analytics.

Government bodies

Government bodies are joining the ethical debate.

The UK has established the Data Ethics Council and Data Ethics Advisory Committee, part of the UK Statistics Authority. It has also set up Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation, which ‘connects policymakers, industry, civil society and the public to develop the right governance regime for data-driven technologies’. The Financial Conduct Authority, the UK financial watchdog, included a focus on data ethics in its most recent business plan.

Corporate checks and balances

Innovators are building safeguards; DeepMind has installed an independent advisory panel, and formed an ethics unit in October 2017.

Microsoft set up Aether, an internal committee to advise and evaluate ethical issues around AI. The group includes more than 100 Microsoft employees and is led by president Brad Smith, alongside AI and research head Harry Shum. Google established an external AI ethics board but had to disband it a week later following protests over the views of one of its members. And many senior executives at major businesses now have ethics as part of their compliance role.

The Centre will set out the measures needed to build trust and enable innovation in data-driven technologies. Trust underpins a strong economy, and trust in data underpins a strong digital economy’

Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation,
HM Government