The rise of virtual assistants, amongst other gadgets, undoubtedly has the potential to make our daily lives better and easier. But after the initial excitement, some doubts have slowly arisen about the technology, especially when it comes to data gathering.
The ability to gather vast swathes of data has its benefits, but also raises questions about our right to privacy. Slowly, laws are being put into place that will provide us with more control over our own data.
There are three specific ethical concerns that arise over big data. One is, how far can one go when it comes to buying data? One example is companies that allow you to install trackers on your car, so that safer drivers pay less insurance. On the one hand this seems very fair, but on the flipside, it could mean that people who cannot afford the premiums are compelled to give up their data because they have no other way to pay the insurance.
Another problem comes from the fact that a more transparent view of everyone’s specific data could lead to a situation where customers who understand an offer less well are exploited and charged more.
The third problem is how acceptable it is to use big data to actively influence and shape peoples buying habits. We regularly see advertisements that have been tailored or influenced by our buying history, and with more and more data, these adverts become more and more specific. Another example could be online video services such as Amazon or Netflix suggesting new TV shows or movies based on our viewing history.
Market forces may not allow for companies to even have this debate about the ethics of big data. Most now require some way to analyse big data to keep up, and businesses without such technology may find themselves losing out. If some regulation isn’t implemented, we may find ourselves in an undesirable situation where discussion of these dilemmas in a luxury only afforded to the very richest companies, and everyone else simply has no choice but to use big data in an unethical way.