Data Ethics and COVID-19

Data Perspective Data Privacy

In this week’s BigIDeas on the Go podcast, BigID CEO Dimitri Sirota interviews Mastercard Chief Data Officer JoAnn Stonier on the differences between the data and privacy domains, how those differences reflect the evolving way we use data in the world, and more—all through the lens of data ethics.

The Progression of Data Roles

“When I got out of school, Chief Data Officer was not a job description, nor was Chief Privacy Officer, for that matter,” says Stonier, who has held both positions at Mastercard. “The privacy role, when I started doing it, was brand new, and it wasn’t necessarily well understood.”

Popular understanding of data roles is still catching up to the realities those roles actually support in a rapidly maturing digital world. “I think there’s an evolution in data positions going on as the world uses more and more data,” says Stonier.

How to Use Data Ethically: A Broad View

As data roles evolve, so do ethical concerns around how we use data. “I do think data ethics is a thread that is beginning to be more and more understood, as all of us really live in an increasingly digital and data-driven world,” says Stonier.

After all, daily life is fueled by the collection and use of data—and no time in history has demonstrated that more than the past few months. For many, data sharing is required to buy groceries, conduct business, and, in a world struggling to flatten the curve of a global pandemic, communicate virtually with coworkers, friends, and family. In essence, the ubiquity of data use widens the ethical umbrella.

“There’s more than just personal and sensitive data at risk for all of us, in that there’s an increasing amount and variety of data being used to solve different problems and to create different types of innovation,” says Stonier. This presents a need for organizations to not only think of how they’re using data to innovate, but whether or not they’re vetting their data-driven decisions against a set of established codes or principles.

“Data ethics is about the how you make decisions related to data. Privacy, security, they’re the baseline of the ethics, but I think there’s so much more that goes into it,” says Stonier, some of which includes:

  • The accuracy of the information organizations collect
  • The quality of the data being collected, like what are the sample sizes, how were they collected, what data is missing?
  • The establishment of principles and standards to help data analysts and scientists move forward

Considerations for Responsible Data Ethics

Compared to privacy, which has fairly well defined regulations and guideposts, data ethics invites a degree of interpretation.

But the more you use data, the more you understand its strengths—and its potential issues. This understanding is crucial to codifying a set of ethics around how you want to use data.

“At Mastercard we talk a lot about our ‘decency quotient,’” or DQ, says Stonier. “That really guided us as we began to think about data ethics.” Such considerations transformed into a set of “data responsibilities” that include:

  • Security and Privacy as the baseline of what people expect
  • Accountability for making sure data use is fit for purpose
  • Transparency into how data is being collected, used, and shared—and the control that consumers have over it
  • Integrity to minimize bias and inaccuracies
  • Innovation for new solutions for customers and cardholders
  • Social Impact for making a positive change for consumers

Social impact is a particularly relevant focus for Mastercard right now, one that involves using data-driven solutions to help customers reopen and understand what’s going on in the economy around them—and what they should anticipate based on global trends.

Organizations are starting to realize that “we need to work together to build things. No one organization can solve this. And now we’re seeing that [ethical principles] are going to be necessary as organizations try to work together to share data. We need ethical data sharing, codes of conduct, and practices in order to make that easier.”

Tune into the podcast to learn more about trustworthy data practices and the next phase of ethical considerations under Covid-19.