Data shifting from 'could we' to 'should we'

In this linked in, logged on world, conversations on consent, privacy, transparency and personal security of data are moving from ability and capability to ethics.

As we seek to regain an element of control over our data some people are covering the camera on their laptops, browsing the web with incognito windows or opting out of national health records. The question on the minds of many has shifted from simply 'could we collect that data' to, should we?

Continuing the knowledge journey from the 2018 Australian Domestic Exchange, Cities Leadership Institute invited Dr Matthew Beard, Fellow at The Ethics Centre, to speak to the growing challenges Cities face when it comes to data.

Dr Beard has developed seven principles to guide ethical decision making associated with data and technology.

As a strong advocate for “putting ethics at the center of decision-making” it's no surprise that the principles developed by Dr Beard use a people-centric approach designed to avoid reducing people to merely the data and technology that they bring to the table. This also means people are seen not for their utility but rather as users, the beneficiaries of technology.

Highlighting the ethical dilemma in this people Vs. technology conflict, Matthew cited the example where someone was so absorbed in their game of Pokemon Go that they literally barged into a church funeral procession to catch a Pikachu.

Another key principle to apply in a technology and data context is that of Fairness. This means countering prejudice and bias, ensuring the acceptability of the date use and providing access to even the most vulnerable people in society. For instance, is it acceptable that Google Translate predetermine gender based on occupation such that in Turkish, a gender neutral language, ‘o bir doktor’ translates in to ‘he is a doctor’, while ‘o bir öğretmen’ is to ‘she is a teacher’?

The ethical principle of Responsibility, understanding the potential harm of the decision, may mean that not everywhere wants to be a ‘smart city’. The Mexican town of Santa Maria Tonantzintla said ‘no’ to becoming a high-tech city once it was apparent that remodelling a plaza as a part of a pilot project on smart cities meant cultural and heritage icons would be destroyed.

Urban leaders faced with making data decisions on parking, traffic movements, pedestrian flows, use of park benches as well as modelling buildings to plan, manage and enhance communities are constantly making trade-offs.

These could be between harm and benefit, individual and collective impact, and openness and privacy. The nature and context of these trade-offs demands judgement, requires accountability and commands transparency.

Making these trade-offs is not easy and these principles provide valuable guideposts whether you are making data decisions in relation to vendor selection, system design or community engagement. They provide a framework to navigate through complex and often competing issues to arrive at a human rather than technological response.

The principles recognise that the right decision for one city may or may not be the right one for another. Using the principles ensures decision makers remain firmly focused on ‘what is a city but the people’.

The Cities Leadership Institute will distribute the full seven principles developed by the Ethics Centre in the coming weeks. Click here to subscribe.

Let us know what your data challenges are - join the conversation. (link to survey)

This webinar was a part of Cities Leadership Institutes ongoing ADE‘18 Crew Webinars for delegates from the 2018 Australian Domestic Exchange on Smart Cities.


Leigh Osterhus, Program Coordinator

Cities Leadership Institute

#dataethics #ethicscentre #cities #leadership #CitiesLeadershipInstitute #smartcities

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