Presented By O'Reilly and Cloudera
Make Data Work
March 28–29, 2016: Training
March 29–31, 2016: Conference
San Jose, CA

Data ethics (not what you think)

Louis Suarez-Potts (Age of Peers, Inc.)
2:40pm–3:20pm Wednesday, 03/30/2016
Law, Ethics, Governance

Location: 211 A-C
Average rating: **...
(2.80, 5 ratings)


2015 saw an increased urgency in the ethics of big data, as the UN began to adopt civil society partnerships with big data organizations. But what, if anything, are we supposed to do with the data we acquire, interpret, and label big data? Big data puts us in the strange position of discovering states that may very well lead to policy—to action.

Louis Suarez-Potts examines big data ethics to explain best practices for putting to use the information gained by big data methodology. Focusing on big data’s relationship with social networks, Louis argues that big data must be understood as a powerful technology whose deployment is hardly without social and political significance and demonstrates that as practitioners, we find ourselves able to exercise rare influence, if only by ensuring that what is done in the name of big data is done accurately.

Topics include:

  • Data acquisition—must we seek the consent of those whose data is being collected? Or even notify them? This not a simple question, as data acquisition can happen long after the people involved, however abstractly, have died or otherwise ceased being of interest to the researchers.
  • Interpretation—it’s relatively easy to make the data look interesting and seem like a valid description of its subject. But how can you know for sure? Are there guarantees that the data has been acquired and interpreted in a manner that validates the assumptions, methods, and interpretations?
  • Action—suppose a study—in which the data was acquired fairly, but no subject was informed beforehand—reveals that arsenic levels in rice grown in Bangladesh have risen steadily, and that this correlates with a rise in seemingly unrelated diseases among rice farmers. What are we to do with our knowledge? Do we inform the government? Do we insist upon remedy? And if we don’t inform the government? Recall the plight of the scientists in Italy who were held accountable by a magistrate for not being more insistent in warning a town later struck by an earthquake.
Photo of Louis Suarez-Potts

Louis Suarez-Potts

Age of Peers, Inc.

As community strategist at Age of Peers, Louis Suarez-Potts strategizes the formation of and manages productive commons-based peer networks (open source communities). Louis helps communities consolidate good work, good connections, and good intentions into a force held in common, producing something all can look at as “theirs.” Louis cut his teeth on He has a PhD in English from UC Berkeley.