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Thursday, November 8, 2018

Do We Need To Teach Ethics And Empathy To Data Scientists?

Kalev Leetaru
Originally posted October 8, 2018

Here is an excerpt:

One of the most frightening aspects of the modern web is the speed at which it has struck down decades of legislation and professional norms regarding personal privacy and the ethics of turning ordinary citizens into laboratory rats to be experimented on against their wills. In the space of just two decades the online world has weaponized personalization and data brokering, stripped away the last vestiges of privacy, centralized control over the world’s information and communications channels, changed the public’s understanding of the right over their digital selves and profoundly reshaped how the scholarly world views research ethics, informed consent and the right to opt out of being turned into a digital guinea pig.

It is the latter which in many ways has driven each of the former changes. Academia’s changing views towards IRB and ethical review has produced a new generation of programmers and data scientists who view research ethics as merely an outdated obsolete historical relic that was an obnoxious barrier preventing them from doing as they pleased to an unsuspecting public.


Ironically, however, when asked whether she would consent to someone mass harvesting all of her own personal information from all of the sites she has willingly signed up for over the years, the answer was a resounding no. When asked how she reconciled the difference between her view that users of platforms willingly relinquish their right to privacy, while her own data should be strictly protected, she was unable to articulate a reason other than that those who create and study the platforms are members of the “societal elite” who must be granted an absolute right to privacy, while “ordinary” people can be mined and manipulated at will. Such an empathy gap is common in the technical world, in which people’s lives are dehumanized into spreadsheets of numbers that remove any trace of connection or empathy.

The info is here.