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Thinking about Data Ethics

Earlier this month, a researcher made a dataset containing the profiles of about 70,000 users public. He didn't really see a problem in doing this because he felt he was only presenting already publicly available data in a more usable form. was only presenting it in a more usable form.

Yesterday, I came across this quote in the very first chapter of Allen Downey's book Think Stats which I liked a lot, and reminded me of this incident.

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I hadn't looked at the OKCupid data release and the discussion around it much, but I went back and read this article by a social media researcher who thinks a lot about these things.

She puts forth a lot of interesting ideas to think about ethics. Some things that stood out to me are:

  • Ask yourself how the person whose data you are using feels about the data.
  • Taking a 'what if' impact approach to thinking about data and ethics.

Also, you needn't really call yourself a researcher to be actually doing experiments with (or analyzing) "big-data" and discovering and putting out facts that have an impact – however big or small. You should really go read the article, whether or not you are a researcher using data.

Incidentally, there is a meet-up on Data Ethics this weekend in Bangalore. I'm excited to learn and think more about this, and talk to others who care.

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