Data Collection Ethics: Big Tech and Privacy

What is the responsibility of large companies dealing with private data? Large organizations like Google and Facebook hold a plurality of the world’s personal data, and the federal government is looking to crack down on Big Tech. But what does this mean for other businesses’ data collection?

Public Good vs Personal Privacy

Since the COVID-19 outbreak began, big data policies have come under scrutiny. Rina Shainski, chairwoman and co-founder of Duality Technologies, told TechRepublic that more privacy regulations would lead to a more heterogeneous privacy landscape, but this could challenge the global data economy — especially for multinational organizations.

When the pandemic began, very few thought this would be a watershed moment for data privacy. However, “The salience of such conflicts has grown apparent in the context of the global pandemic, with inter-organizational data collaboration increasingly necessary for researching COVID-19,” Shainski said.

Corporations and individuals began to see both the ramifications and benefits of sharing sensitive data between different companies. A larger question formed about how best to use personal data.

Read more: Data Collection Ethics: Bridging the Trust Gap

Remote Work Fuels Data Leaks

When more companies adopted a remote work model, significant security gaps opened up. “Between February 2020 and May 2020, more than half a million people were affected by breaches in which the personal data of video conferencing services users (e.g., name, passwords, email addresses) was stolen and sold on the dark web,” according to a Deloitte report. 

47% of employees cited distraction as the top reason for falling for a phishing scam.

Further, a spike in cyberattacks resulted when at-home employees stopped following best practices to protect company data. According to a Tessian survey, “47% of employees cited distraction as the top reason for falling for a phishing scam,” and 57% of survey respondents said they “feel more distracted when working from home.”

Big Tech Takes the Lead — for Now

The most public-facing data collectors are the easiest targets for individuals, governments, and other businesses to blame when data breaches occur. However, some tech giants have taken the lead to help protect individual and company data from being hacked.

During the pandemic, Google began to adopt changes to phase out existing ad-tracking technology from Chrome Browsers. And Apple caused major panic when it rolled out changes to its ad policy, though big advertisers like Facebook and Snap don’t seem to be too badly affected yet.

It’s clear that the biggest data collectors are attempting to anticipate and sidestep future regulations by ramping up privacy education for users. Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple all dedicate space on their sites to providing advice on how users can protect their private information. Critics say this shifts the onus for data privacy onto users without addressing systemic vulnerabilities.

Still, other companies can take a cue from Big Tech and educate workers — especially remote workers — on the importance of data security and vigilance. But ultimately, the key to ethical data collection is making sure that data isn’t accessible to bad actors.

Read next: Top Big Data Tools & Software for 2021

Kent Barnett
Kent Barnett
Kent Barnett has been an instrumental professional in the fields of business, technology, and entrepreneurship. He founded his first company creating an organization dedicated to believing that technology and business must align for success. Mr. Barnett now lives in the technology corridor of Northern Virginia, where he has continued to build his expertise while providing advisory services to many national and international companies.

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