Data Ethics

At Seluxit we work actively with data ethics. But why?

Data Ethics Matters

Do people own data about themselves?
Should companies or governments be allowed to collect data as they please?
Are there certain types of data that ought not to be for sale?
When do the collection and use of data violate people’s right to privacy?

These are some of the core questions in the field of data ethics.

The Principles of Data Ethics

So what exactly is Seluxit doing about data ethics? Seluxit has taken the initiative to employ a PhD student in the field of philosophy with a specialization in ethics and is writing a collection of principles of data ethics.

These principles have a general application but stem from questions that arise in our daily work. The principles will serve to guide the decisions we make in our work. The principles, which can be browsed here on our website, are being published in a series.

Data Ethics and IoT

Because Seluxit helps its customers produce connected products, we need to navigate ethical questions that arise from IoT products and the ownership and use of their data.

Seluxit and Your Data

Privacy and data protection are already on many people’s lips. As more and more data will be collected and used in the future, it has never been more crucial for businesses to work actively with data ethics. Seluxit takes responsibility for actively implementing principles of data ethics at the very core of our business.

At Seluxit, we connect physical products to the internet. Many of these products generate large amounts of data. Understanding the consequences of the choices we make in relation to the collection of data, is crucial. The choices we make affect both the data subjects and the people around them.

 Making the right decisions is not always easy. The field of data ethics provides the relevant tools to help make the right decisions in relation to data. For that reason, we want to take the lead in developing and implementing data ethics at the very core of our business.

A Major Issue

One example of a major issue that we face is the balance between the individuals’ property rights and privacy rights, companies and fair use of data collected through their online services and devices, and governments and their attempts to create value and security for citizens through data surveillance.

Striking the balance between these three considerations is not always easy.

There can be both pros and cons in many cases. Consider these examples:

Convenience vs Manipulation
Companies collect data about you, in order to make your life easier through targeted advertisement, improvement of your products etc.
The price of data
Companies collect data about you, with cheaper or even ‘free’ products or services in return. If social media, for example, did not collect data about you, you would have to pay for the service.
The state using data
States often collect huge amounts of data on citizens in order for the citizens to be more safe, healthy etc. For example, the state collects data in order to prevent diseases, avoid terror attacks etc.
Convenience vs Manipulation
The more states and companies know about you, the easier it is for them to manipulate you. You can be manipulated into buying certain products, to vote for certain parties or candidates etc.
The price of data
Data is valuable. When companies collect data about you, it is usually to make money from it. This value is often harvested by the company, and not by you.
The state using data
States are not always trustworthy, even when their intentions are good. Citizen data is knowledge, knowledge is power, and power corrupts. And, state data bases with citizen data can be hacked by people with bad intentions.

Data ethics can be used to evaluate pros and cons like the ones above, and critically evaluate all the arguments on both sides.

An Example: Introducing Smith and Jones

Here is an example showing the importance of data ethics. This example concerns ownership over data.

Imagine that Smith owns a robotic vacuum cleaner. The vacuum cleaner is connected to the internet, and it collects many data as it moves around Smith’s house. After having cleaned Smith’s house for a month, the manufacturer of the vacuum cleaner now has a detailed map of Smith’s house. And it knows when he is home. Who owns these data about Smith? Does Smith? Does the manufacturer? If Smith does not own it, he may not be able to control where the data goes. These data might be very useful for thieves!

We all have an intuitive idea about what it means that Smith owns his vacuum cleaner. It means, for example, that Smith may decide whether Jones uses the vacuum cleaner, whether it is sold to Jones etc. But what does it mean that Smith owns his data collected by the vacuum cleaner? Does it mean that Smith may decide whether Jones has access to the data, or whether the data is sold to Jones? And what is the difference exactly?


general ethics example

The Challenge

While over time we’ve built some consensus on the ethics of ownership and privacy, the digital era has opened up new challenges, and seemingly obvious answers to ethical questions about ownership and privacy have become complicated.

We want to face this challenge head-on, and take the lead in developing and implementing data ethics.


Integrating the Principles

We are going to develop a set of data ethical principles, which will be written into the very core of our business. These principles will be published on the website in the form of short articles explaining the principles, the reasoning behind them etc. The principles will be developed through videos, discussion papers, customer engagements etc.

We do not only want to do what is legal. We also want to do what we think is right.

Our 10 Principles of Data Ethics