The problem with ethics in data

Steve Jobs once said: 'Technology is nothing. What's important is that you have a faith in people'

The problem with ethics in data

Steve Jobs once said: “Technology is nothing. What's important is that you have a faith in people, that they're basically good and smart, and if you give them tools, they'll do wonderful things with them.”

A rather surprising statement from the genius behind the Apple brand – but it seems to ring true today even more so than it did in the 90s.

As technology evolves, we’ve become ever more reliant on it. As a race, we’re constantly looking to automate the next problem, to make our lives simpler through the modem of increasingly complex tech. But where does this leave our morals or, more specific to the workplace, our professional ethics?

The problem of ‘ethics in data’ has become entrenched in HR. A recent paper published in Philosophical Transactions A by Luciano Floridi and Mariarosaria Taddeo, questioned the nature of ‘data ethics’ and what it means in a corporate setting.

“While the data ethics landscape is complex, we are confident that these ethical challenges can be addressed successfully,” commented Floridi.

“Striking a robust balance between enabling innovation in data science technology, and respecting privacy and human rights will not be an easy or simple task. But the alternative, failing to advance both the ethics and the science of data, would have regrettable consequences.”

It serves as both a scary reminder of what exactly is at stake here, and a rousing challenge for HR practitioners. HR should take on the role of a gatekeeper to employee data – rather than procurer. Ethics in HR looks very different today than it did 10 years ago, simply because of the wave of never-ending methods to collect and dissect staff data.

"Data and HR is an incredibly powerful combination," explained Roberto Maranca - a leading Chief Data Officer.

He explained to us how data is now at the forefront of CEOs and decision makers’ remits – specifically how to use the data to make the organization as a whole more agile.

Maranca told us that data people and HR practitioners need to be a team. After all, when it comes down to it, HR leaders are the ones that will relay how data collection can help employees, whilst also eradicating their fears over privacy and management snooping.

So, how can HR get buy in for their new data systems?

Do your research
Throughout the process of implanting new technology, HR should be consulting both their management teams and their employees. Springing a whole new tech on an organization, without any explanation as to why or how to use it, will inevitably instigate a backlash.

Hold a demo
Once you’ve decided on your new data system, be fully transparent and show your staff exactly how you intend to use it. Don’t let this become an Orwellian-themed nightmare, where staff think their every movement is being monitored, analysed and then confronted. Show them which data you’ll be collecting, how you’ll be using it and quell the fears that the analytics will lead to terminations or confrontations.

Ask for feedback
Buying the new tech is only half the battle. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you’ve successfully implemented a new data system and then leave the employee base to percolate. Go back to management in three months, ask for their feedback on the new processes – and make a decided effort to ensure your employees are happy. Otherwise, the unforeseen impact of a wrongly implemented data system can be a mass walkout.

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