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The Social Dilemma – what it means for corporations and their use of data?

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Technology has impacted society in countless positive ways, but Netflix’s recent docudrama, The Social Dilemma, brings to light the scary side of data and technology.  

In the docudrama, ex-employees of tech giants Twitter, Snapchat, Google, Pinterest, and Facebook expose the unethical strategies and intentions of the dark side of social media. 

Summarised in this confronting quote from Tristan Harris, former Google design ethicist, “If you’re not paying for the product, then you are the product”

Our every move is monitored and recorded to manipulate what we see online and increase the already highly addictive nature of these platforms. Through harvesting our data and information, social media algorithms identify and learn what content we like and serve us more of it, whether it be true or not. So much so that what we see becomes our beliefs and shapes our behaviours subconsciously. The effectiveness of this is seen in the fake news phenomenon and its impact on real-world events (Cambridge Analytica). In fact, fake news on Twitter spreads six times faster than real news, demonstrating the power these platforms have in manipulating public belief systems.  

An inquiry by the ACCC into the influence of digital platforms on consumers, media and advertisers, found that the power these tech giants have over the public is unfair and unequal and suggests that the existing regulatory frameworks have not held up well against new developments and challenges in technology.  

Even before the release of The Social Dilemma, data ethics had become a popular and important topic of conversation. Public distrust of tech giants has soared with many people altering their privacy settings and even uninstalling apps such as Facebook and Snapchat. Among the most concerned are parents, with the docudrama suggesting the damaging impact of social media algorithms on young peoples’ self-esteem. 

But what does this mean for corporations and their use of data?

The Social Dilemma suggests the only way forward is regulation, but trust and transparency, which start at an organisational level, also play a huge part in managing the dilemma. 

Building an ethical data environment in the digital age. 

Consumers today hold high expectations, rightfully so, which is why trust and truth should be foundational elements for any corporation and their data management practices. 

Businesses know what they can and cannot do with data; at least they should. When managed effectively and efficiently, data and information create real insights and business value for corporations and their customers. But we are all vulnerable to an element of bias when using and collecting data, be that deliberate or otherwise. We favour what we already believe to be true. For businesses and corporate leaders, this makes data governance and data ethics, and the careful use of data in decision-making, critically important disciplines in safeguarding corporations and their customers. 

Data ethics requires organisations to analyse their use of data in order to ensure their actions are not being influenced by untrue, biased data and existing personal beliefs, and will not result in detrimental impacts to stakeholder groups.  Organisations wanting to succeed in the digital age are faced with the ethical dilemma – just because we can use data, should we?

There are many measures businesses can take to operate safely in a world that is increasingly socially and politicly polarised and has no real way of determining what is true and untrue.

Our recommendations are:

1.    Trust and transparency are key. Be open about the data you’re collecting, why you’re collecting it and how you plan to use it. Best practice is to collect only what you need and keep it for the minimum amount of time. There are multiple detrimental impacts of unethical data collection and misuse as we’ve seen.  

2. Implement and follow a data ethics framework that goes beyond the base-level standard for privacy and security and guides decision making if an ethical dilemma were to arise.

3.    Start at the top, data ethics is not an IT issue. At an executive level, clearly define the purpose and use of data in your organisation and implement these principles across your entire organisation.

4.    Quality data that is fit-for-purpose is fundamental. Devise data usage requirements and goals to ensure confidence in your organisation’s data collection, storage, sharing and reporting. 

When used correctly and ethically, data can be the biggest asset to any enterprise. At GWI, we’ve seen first-hand the influence of strong ethical data governance on business performance, efficiency and customer experience. It’s never been more important to implement a strong data ethics framework. If you want to know more, get in touch with GWI today. 

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