83% of business leaders feel ‘morally uncomfortable’ about how their company uses data

Research by data consultancy Profusion has revealed that the vast majority of UK business leaders are struggling to use data ethically within their organisation.

The research follows the launch of Profusion’s ‘Good Data Guide’ in partnership with Pinsent Masons LLP. The Guide, which was made in consultation with representatives from London Stock Exchange Group, Oscar O'Connor & Co and others, provides one of the most practical frameworks to date for how organisations of any size can use data ethically.

Despite 79% of businesses declaring that they wanted to address data ethics challenges, only 31% stated it was among their top three governance priorities.* When asked what the biggest barriers to addressing data ethics were, 36% said lack of internal knowledge and expertise, 31% lack of training and 30% lack of perceived relevance. One in four said they were concerned that innovation was being held back by a lack of ethical and regulatory understanding.    

Of the 83% of businesses that said they felt morally uncomfortable with how their organisation used data, 9% said it was a daily occurrence, 25% weekly and 16% monthly. 33% said they feared their algorithms were not being scrutinised for issues such as bias.

The Good Data Guide seeks to address these concerns by demystifying data ethics to enable companies to adopt a strategic approach across their organisation, address specific organisational issues, and to evaluate new data initiatives.

Natalie Cramp, CEO of data consultancy Profusion, said: “It is shocking, but also unsurprising, that so many businesses feel morally uncomfortable about how they use data. There is little practical guidance available with data ethics often presented as a complex philosophy rather than a set of practical policies, KPIs and guardrails businesses can adopt. We hope to take a step forward in solving this problem with the Good Data Guide.

“We’ve been lucky to collaborate with experts from a range of specialties and industries to address a number of issues and give organisations, big and small, the tools they need to make ethical decisions around how they use their data now and in the future. Our hope is this becomes a ‘living document’ with organisations contributing to it and sharing best practice as they encounter new ethical challenges.”  

Sue Chadwick, Strategic and Digital Advisor, Pinsent Masons, said: “The Good Data Guide is distinguished by the range of contributors, the simplicity of its approach, and the commitment to remain agile and open to changes in law, guidance, or society.

“The Guide recognises that technology develops quickly, while the law moves comparatively slowly, so we need to go beyond compliance to achieve ethical data use.”

The subjects covered in the Good Data Guide include data management and security, the lifecycle of data, creating ethical algorithms and automations, algorithmic transparency and building diverse data teams.

The Good Data Guide was created in consultation with Profusion’s Data Ethics Advisory Board which is composed of senior leaders and experts from organisations including the University of Essex.

Other findings in the research include:

  • Only 16% of businesses said data ethics was the responsibility of their CEO/MD - this increased to 29% for companies with more than 1,000 employees
  • 36% of organisations said that diversity within their data team was ‘very good’ with a further 51% stating it was ‘somewhat good’