By Caryn Maresic, Senior Consultant
Contribute to society and human well-being. Avoid harm to others. Be honest and trustworthy. Be fair and take action not to discriminate. Those are the first four items in the ACM Code of Ethics. The ACM, for those who may not be familiar, is the Association for Computing Machinery, whose mission is to advance computing as a science and a profession.
In the course of a recent assignment with a major insurance carrier our team was asked to create various target lists for sales and marketing based on certain selection criteria. While it is likely that all of the things they asked for were legal and ethical, we never questioned it. As good Data Stewards, what should we have done in this case? Should we be asking the business to justify their selection criteria? Should we be checking to make sure there are no legal or ethical violations inherent in the rules? A little research on the topic turned up this presentation
which is very interesting and thought provoking. That being said, it focuses more on the hot-topic issues like privacy and identity theft than it does the ethical dilemmas of sales and marketing.
This article tells the story of an ”Agent Profile System” set up by an insurer in Texas to rate its agents. Agents who didn’t score well were punished by not getting any new business. The agents filed suit contending this was illegal as it compelled them to drop clients with low credit ratings, low income, and/or those who lived in undesirable locations in order to boost their own score. Is the IT team that built the Agent Profile System responsible, at least in part, for discrimination?
When we are dealing with situations where lives are in danger the ethical answer is clear. For example, no reasonable person would deny that engineers working on Space Shuttle software have a duty to report concerns regarding possible malfunction. In the BI community our issues are not always so clear cut. Sometimes discrimination is good for the business’ bottom line, yet still unethical and possibly illegal. If we go back to the statements ”Avoid harm to others” and ”Be fair” and ”take action not to discriminate” it appears that we should take serious our responsibility to be involved in how the business uses data. In fact, I would argue that we should make ethical considerations part of our data governance program.
photo by Robert S. Donovan via Flickr (Creative Commons
Caryn has over 20 years experience in providing high-quality data
solutions to clients in the areas of Business Intelligence, Data
Warehousing and System Integration. Caryn has expertise in across
industries with an emphasis in Pharmaceutical, Manufacturing, and
Insurance. Prior to joining to Baseline, she ran her own consulting
Posted July 15, 2010 6:00 AM
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