How the new field of data science is grappling with ethics
By Laura Shin | Smart Planet
As we become more aware of how our actions are being studied, new academic programs in data science are cropping up with more frequency. This year, New York University and Columbia University launched new courses of study, joining similar programs at Stanford University,Northwestern University, Syracuse University and other educational institutions. The services of these graduates will be in demand: the McKinsey Global Institute reports that, for example, big data — or, analysis of large data sets — could help retailers increase operating margins by 60 percent and reduce U.S. healthcare expenditures by 8 percent.
But even as we embrace the potential benefits, this summer’s revelations about surveillance activities by the National Security Agency show that progress often comes at a cost — in this case, to privacy. A Pew Internet and American Life study released last week showed that 86 percent of Internet users have made steps to remove or mask their identities online. Meanwhile, some companies are even trying to be open about their activities: Acxiom Corp., which collects and sells data about individuals to companies, just launched Aboutthedata.com, a site where Internet users can see and manage what Acxiom knows about them.
As new academic programs catch up with the use of big data in the real world, many also are grappling with how to teach ethics.