Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben told him “With great power comes responsibility.”  Excellent advice that Spiderman took too late.  It cost Uncle Ben his life.  Uncle Ben and Spiderman are of course fictitious, but it teaches us a good lesson…

With big data also comes “great responsibility.”  And depending on the application or abuse, yes… it could mean the quality of or even someone else’s life as we connecting our online interactions, houses, cars, even physical selves to these devices more and more.

Abuse or carelessness with people’s data can affect real people’s lives.  This is why it’s important to instill a culture of moral data usage company-wide.  Defined for all types of data captured – when and how it is okay to combine, compare, and share.  This goes beyond what is “legal” to do with the data to what is “right.” 

Here are some tips that can help you get there:

1) Data morality is everyone’s job – not just the CEO or IT

Companies and individuals need to take a more active role in building and spreading a culture of moral data usage – especially given the amount of data that is flooding our systems. 

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For those of us that work with data, we spend so much time just trying to gather, clean, and analyze that data that it’s easy to leave the morality or ethics to someone else.  But if you don’t know what the company stance is… then there probably isn’t one.  And that’s a problem.

2) Be proactive – don’t wait for the first incident/law to react

If you don’t have a framework for this or are not talking about it, then start it NOW.  Get the foundation in place to ensure you are protecting and using the data you capture and leverage safely and responsibly – beyond any law that already exists or that you can reasonably imagine around the corner.


A common argument is “IT or legal will figure this out” or “we can figure that out when we get there.”  Well, think of the possibility that – no, they won’t.  Waiting is the easy way out and riskiest both for your company and personal reputation.

3) Be transparent and ensure customers’ data is secure

This is data 101 for any size – small, medium, or big – data.  Don’t seek to pull in data faster and skip the security hoops just to get it done.  Do it right, secure it, and even anonymize whenever possible.   Make sure to share, at least at a high level, how you’re ensuring this with your user base.

4) Leverage analytics to bring context to your data

Are you only reporting on summary metrics or looking at high level statistics?  While this is a good start, the real value is in applying advanced analytics and suggesting actions for improvement.

5) Shift from compliance mindset to stewardship

Stop thinking that once this data reaches your companies servers that it’s “yours.”  Instead treat data you are collecting as a rarity that you have been entrusted with.  Take the responsibility seriously and don’t abuse or exploit the trust you’ve been given.

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Change to a practice of capturing and retain data in good-faith on behalf and not from your customers.  Make it simple and clear that this is their data and you only use it in the most responsible way.  It’s not enough simply to state or publish these things.  We must show this in our actions in hope of being rewarded with the confidence and success of our customers.

For the rest of the tips check out this slideshare or the live presentation that inspired this blog post.  I’d really love to know — how are you practicing morality in your use of big data?

Join the conversation on Twitter with #Datamorality

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