Column: We need to start a debate on data ethics
We are all aware of it: We leave digital footprints all the time – also at our workplace. But do we really know enough about what the employers know about us? And do they know themselves?
Data is everywhere. As our daily lives become more and more digital in everything we do, the volumes of data accumulate around us and in every aspect of our lives. And only very few of us read all the text before downloading or accepting cookies.
The data footprints are increasing in volume and complexity also in the employee-workplace setting. In the workplace, we leave countless digital trails in the systems we use to do our job – and perhaps also even before we actually get the job.
Businesses have long figured out that data can be used to optimise processes and make decisions on a more informed basis.
There is nothing fundamentally wrong with data – nor is there anything wrong with using it right. Data and insight into it can be used to make our lives easier, better, more structured and more free.
But is there a grey zone and a line somewhere? And how do we maintain the sensible and responsible use of data?
What if algorithms are used to select – and dismiss – employees who fail to deliver results? What if we monitor the employees’ desks and adjust the pay if a decline in activity is recorded? Or what if businesses monitor their employees’ physical location via geotracking on the phone?
These examples are based on true stories. Fortunately, not from the financial sector in Denmark.
Quite the opposite seems to be true for Denmark, which has a distinctive culture of trust that works as a data ethical safeguard. We fundamentally trust our employers will act responsibly with respect to the data about us.
This is most likely a result of our vast experience in data handling in the financial sector and Denmark’s inherently strong culture of trust in the employer-employee relationship.
That is something we must protect.
But we also see a growing concern when we look to the future. Because data is evidently going to increase even more in our ever-increasing digital reality – a reality that both employees and businesses quite understandably may find difficult to handle.
And for that reason we need to start a joint debate on data ethics. About what is being collected, what it is used for – and the decisions that might follow as a result thereof.
We need data. But we also need to start a debate on how we may ensure transparency of which kind of footprints we leave and where we leave them – and what they are actually used for.