The human side of data: avoiding potential pitfalls in its ethical use

Kate O’Neill, founder of KO Insights, discusses the importance of treating data with due diligence in order to build better human experiences.

Kate O’Neill, KO Insights

With the ever increasing splitting of realities we’re facing today and virtual platforms/worlds become more influential in the real world, do future world builders become more responsible and require ethical standards like scientists?

That’s a big question. I do think we have to be very conscious about the real ethics and impact of what we’re creating and that these experiences are actually things that people are living within. They’re bringing real world potential harms to people, so we have to be really careful about that.

So, yeah, I do think that we’re going to need to encode a set of standards for the practitioners, the experience makers, in this space to be very mindful about the experiences that they create.

Who or what will be the source of the data, be it qualitative or quantitative? We need a paradigm shift before we begin collecting and dispersing data, don’t we?

True. One of the things that organisations have the opportunity to do right, to be very careful about the way that they use data and be respectful with the use of data, is to think about what data we’re even collecting up front. Not all of the data that can be collected needs to be collected.

There was an example a while back where Uber had been collecting the battery level along with other information about the ride and the rider requesting the ride. They admitted that they had been using that battery level data to experiment with whether they could charge extra for the person whose battery level was really low. They said they never went into production with that and so, again, I don’t want to throw you under the bus if you’re from Uber, but I do think that it’s a pretty vivid example of where we’re really almost testing ourselves to do the wrong thing if we allow companies to experiment for motives that are not going to benefit anyone in the long run. So we’ve got to be really careful about the data we collect and how we use that data.

Always be thinking respectful use of that data and how we can use it in the most meaningful integrated way possible.

Do you think there needs to be a high-level form for what ‘sensible’ means to get consensus? How do you define ‘sensible’?

I think we’re rapidly coming to a place where we need to have consensus around what some of these terms mean. I’m starting a live show called The Tech Humanist Show and, this week, we’re actually talking about responsible AI. Part of that is going to be about the ethics of data collection, the datasets and the data models that we’re using. So some of that has to do with what we determine to be worthwhile and ethical in collecting and in defining how we do that.

How do you take a marketing campaign and evaluate whether or not it has meaning and focuses on what matters? What questions would you ask?

Meaningfulness certainly is an abstract characteristic and it’s hard to measure, but there are proxies for meaningfulness. We can think about memorability, for example, in terms of a marketing campaign if something is really impactful and it really resonates with someone. Then, hopefully, they’re going to remember it and be more willing to talk about it and share it, it’s going to have better word of mouth. It’s going to have all of those holistically wonderful characteristics that we’re always looking for in marketing campaigns.

I think in general, too, when we think about whether something has meaning and focuses on what matters, we’re looking for that alignment. We’re looking for “what is the organisation trying to do and what is the person outside of the organisation trying to do?” and “how can we make sure that what we’re doing and the experiences that we’re creating are aligning those intentions as much as possible?”.

So how can we measure to make sure we’re achieving the best alignment of what the organisation needs to accomplish and what the person outside of the organisation needs to accomplish? That’s what matters. That’s where we really get to where something is meaningful. It’s relevant, it’s significant and it has that impact we need.

  • KO Insights is a strategic advisory firm committed to improving human experience at scale.

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