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Data Collection: Ethics and Governance

With so many devices today constantly relaying information to corporations, we must consider whether enough is being done to ensure the ethical use of consumers' personal data.

Early in 2015, CNBC revealed that the voice recognition feature of Samsung's Smart TV was potentially listening to more than just voice commands. At the time, their privacy policy included a sentence that read:

"Please be aware that if your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party through your use of Voice Recognition."

In other words, by activating the voice recognition, the viewer was also agreeing that any text transcribed through the voice recognition processes could be collected and shared (per Samsung's privacy policy) with affiliates and business partners. That would include any words spoken within "earshot" of the TV, whether they had anything to do with TV voice commands or not.

With the integration of big data platforms, organizations such as Samsung are increasingly able to ingest and process data streams in real time and subject that data to analytical models that direct the delivery of "personalized recommendations." They can also allow television content or advertising providers to make their content more interactive in ways that may influence viewer behaviors.

The data streams may include, as the Samsung Privacy Policy -- SmartTV supplement notes, a significant set of inputs, including:

  • "Information about content that you have watched, purchased, downloaded, or streamed through Samsung applications on your SmartTV or other devices;

  • Information about applications you have accessed through the SmartTV panels;

  • Information about your clicks on the "Like," "Dislike," "Watch Now," and other buttons on your SmartTV;

  • The query terms you enter into SmartTV search features, including when you search for particular video content; and

  • Other SmartTV usage and device information, including, but not limited to, IP address, information stored in cookies and similar technologies, information that identifies your hardware or software configuration, browser information, and the page(s) you request."

Presumably, when the viewer accepts the licensing agreement to use the SmartTV, he or she also agrees to allow the company to stream all of this data, including the transcribed voice data. As the technology for capturing and analyzing data becomes more sophisticated, though, at what point does the company have to exercise restraint regarding how that data is used?

From the consumer's perspective: does one have the right to expect protection from being bombarded with eerily accurate recommendations, as well as protection of private information? Can we expect that the company will abide by a set of rules for the ethical use of data?

From one perspective, the answer is "no" -- providing the integrated technologies delivers a presumptive value to the consumer, including more precise recommendations of content, interactive coupons on promoted products, or personalized offers.

In return for this value, the consumer is being asked to "pay for" that service using personal data. From Samsung's vantage point, the fact that the consumers have agreed to the terms of use demonstrates that they accept that their data is going to be used for analytical purposes.

Alternatively, one could argue that the consumers are strongly encouraged (if not effectively forced) into accepting the company's exploitation of their personal data in order to use the promised services. From this perspective, it may be worthwhile for the company to adopt some set of ethical rules guiding how that they plan to both use and protect personal data.

This may be the tack taken by Samsung. A spokesperson said that the company "takes consumer privacy very seriously," and that the company "does not retain voice data, or sell it to third parties. If a consumer consents and uses the voice recognition feature, voice data is provided to a third party during a requested voice command search."

The time may be right for the creation of standards guiding data ethics and policies to govern compliance with those standards. Organizations such as the Future of Privacy Forum are facilitating collaboration between industry leaders and privacy professionals in order to devise guidelines for the responsible use and management of data.

Only time will tell whether consumers will soon look for adherence to ethical data use policies as a factor when purchasing these types of interactive products.

About the Author

David Loshin is a recognized thought leader in the areas of data quality and governance, master data management, and business intelligence. David is a prolific author regarding BI best practices via the expert channel at BeyeNETWORK and numerous books on BI and data quality. His valuable MDM insights can be found in his book, Master Data Management, which has been endorsed by data management industry leaders.


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