How Ethics Informs Data Collection and Analysis

Regulations governing data collection, analysis and use are “a jumble of hundreds of laws enacted on both the federal and state levels.” Compliance can mean as little as checking off boxes to show regulators that legal thresholds have been met.

Customer-centric companies, however, are enriching their regulatory compliance processes by adopting ethics policies and codes of conduct that define and enforce enterprise-wide internal mandates for data management across its entire life cycle — from collection to retirement.

Data ethics is the responsible and moral handling of data to ensure privacy, security and transparency in the management of personal information; more simply, “data ethics challenges us to ask questions like, “Is this the right thing to do?” and “Can we do better?” as Atlan describes it. Analytics professionals, such as graduates of advanced data analytics programs, must understand how data ethics improves business operations and outcomes.

What Value Do Data Ethics Policies Add to Businesses?

An effective data ethics policy is the foundation of building what McKinsey & Company calls “digital trust.” Customers have few illusions about how much personal information — everything from email addresses to financial information — is exposed.

And they want it protected, according to a McKinsey survey that found:

  • 85% of customers want to know a company’s data policies before buying; nearly half will switch brands if the policies are unclear.
  • 87% rank a company’s ethics, reputational trust and amount of data required in a transaction as primary factors in their buying decision process.
  • 53% purchase only from companies with a strong reputation for managing customer data ethically.
  • 40% of consumers and 52% of B2B buyers stopped doing business with companies that violated their digital trust.

McKinsey concludes that ethical management is a foundational business practice in a data-driven environment that gives an advantage over competitors: “Organizations that are best positioned to build digital trust are also more likely than others to see annual growth rates of at least 10 percent on their top and bottom lines.”

What Are Some Issues That Data Ethics Policies Address?

Regulatory data compliance is a “reactive” process responding to laws and governance mandates. Data ethics are proactive and anticipate consumer demands for managing their personal, confidential and sensitive information, which include:


As organizations gather vast amounts of data from devices ranging from autonomous vehicles and smart home appliances to online browsing and e-commerce, consumers are demanding protections against using it in ways that violate their privacy.

Companies on the leading edge of ethics policy development are adopting data anonymization analytics to filter data through algorithms that remove personally identifiable information from large, complex data sets to produce aggregated insights.


In 2020, the average identity-theft incident cost $1,100, with an annual total exceeding $56 billion. While related to data privacy, which involves collecting, organizing and analyzing data, security protocols protect against unauthorized access, such as hacks, breaches and accidental data loss.

“If I’m concerned about my data being destroyed, lost or corrupted, I’m worried about their security. While, from a privacy point of view, I’m worried about knowing where my data is, who’s got access to it now, who it might be shared with, and knowing that I can get hold of it if I want to,” the former head of Google’s legal team explains.

Transparency and Openness

Consumers and customers want sellers to be transparent about data collection methods and analytics, how their data will be used and policies for sharing with third-party organizations. In its recommendations for developing transparency policies, HubSpot recommends continuous review and optimization of processes and limiting the amount of data harvested to the volumes and types needed to meet defined business needs.

Moreover, data ethics policies flatten the responsibility surface, extending it from analytics and compliance processes to include any business function that uses data.

“At different times, employees across the organization — from the front line to the C-suite — will need to raise, respond to, and think through various ethical issues surrounding data,” McKinsey & Company advises in another white paper.

How Do Business Professionals Gain Insight Into Best Practices in Data Ethics?

The online Master of Business Administration (MBA) with a concentration in Data Analytics program offered by Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) equips graduates with the leadership skills and data management expertise to assess and analyze the ethical implications of business decisions in their careers.

The accredited curriculum, for instance, explores the theory and practices of ethical decision-making processes in strategic leadership at a global level, as well as social responsibility issues in marketing management and privacy, security and transparency topics in data-driven decision-making.

Learn more about FGCU’s online MBA in Data Analytics program.

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