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The Ethics of Big Data

A CRASSH Faculty Research Group

As a society we are creating ever-larger volumes and varieties of data, which are also being shared at increasing velocities. The embedding of sensor networks in ‘smart cities’, the rapid expansion of mobile phone and particularly mobile internet use and the growth of social, political and cultural interactions on social media platforms are some of the factors behind this phenomenon. Methods and tools for the computational analysis of such massive and complex datasets are being adopted in a wide range of settings by governments, international institutions, corporations, civil society organisations and academic researchers. However, the growing prevalence of big data research across the disciplines, has significantly outpaced our knowledge of its ethical ramifications (boyd and Crawford 2012). 

The aims of this interdisciplinary Ethics of Big Data Research Group are to explore these ethical ramifications and to develop concrete resources for scholars conducting big data research.  In addition, the Research Group intends to contribute to our understanding of research ethics more broadly in terms of their relationship to rapidly evolving research practices and in terms of how they translate across disciplines.

The programme of the research group for the first term will focus on the ‘what’, ‘how’, ‘who’ and ‘why’ of the Ethics of Big Data, which we will explore through a series of public seminars and workshops.

What is big data?
How is big data produced?
Who creates, collects and researches big data?
Why do ethical approaches to big data matter?

These questions naturally provoke others: What is old and what is new in big data research? Are there specific ethical challenges arising from big data research? Which ethical frameworks can we use or adapt to meet those challenges?

Background readings to accompany the seminars will be announced online and participants are encouraged to contribute to the development of our shared resources by to the reading lists.