Part Two:The ABCs of Responsible Data and Technology

by | May 11, 2020 | ICT4D |

ABC books, sometimes called alphabet books, can be a creative way to explore a topic. Yesterday, I did the first half of the alphabet (A-M), here’s the second half (N-Z) of exploring the ABCs of responsible data and technology.

N is for naming convention, sometimes called standards or a set of rules. Without a consistent way to define the terms we use, we’d end up with useless data. Naming convention help us share data, analyse data, and make sense of it all. Naming convention are rarely talked about, but we miss them if they were gone.

O is for ownership. Who owns the data is often a rabbit hole not worth exploring – is it the individual or the collective? Is it the organisation who collects it or the person about whom the data is? It is usually worth asking if it is about ownership or about power and control.

P is for Privacy, Protection, PII, Portability, and Partnerships. Privacy is virtually impossible; it’s surprises that people want to avoid, but privacy is one of the legal constructs often used. Data protection is about how and what data we collect, process, store and so on. PII = personally identifiable information or information about people. More and more people are realising that any data that has any links to a person is PII. Data portability is the ability of a person to take data about them with them from one supplier or company to another. And partnerships, working with data is all about partnerships, no one can do it alone, however we often forget to analyse our partnerships and also our partner’s partners.

Q is for quality. Garbage in results in garbage out. This is true in all areas of life and data and digital is no different. Too often this is overlooked and technology is seen as a magic hat out of which data rabbits are pulled. Nothing is further from the truth.

R is for rights, responsibilities, and risk. The people we seek to serve have the right to be counted and heard, the right to dignity and respect, the right to privacy, the right not to be put at risk, the right to be forgotten, the right to make an informed decision. Therefore we have the responsibility to create awareness and understanding of these rights. And risk, we have organisational risk and the people we seek to serve have risk, both need to be managed wisely and not at the expense of each other.

S is for sharing, stigma, sensitive, surveillance, and security. If you collect data, ensure everything you do with it is done securely. There are legal definitions of what is sensitive data, those definitions are the minimum starting point, go beyond them and ask the people about whom the data is what they consider sensitive. Surveillance is more and more common and we are enabling it more. Do we really need to track people? Surveillance combined with our biases often leads to additional stigma added to already vulnerable groups. Data sharing seems common sensical, but it is complex as it takes us back to consent, ownership, privacy, partnerships, and do no harm.

T is for types. Some data is sensitive, some is not, some is even uncertain what it is. Understanding types exist is important, but being clear on who decides which data is what type is absolutely critical.

U is for utility and unaware. When working with vulnerable groups, all data and technology should have high utility value. Without it, we will likely cause frustration, annoyance, and perhaps even greater vulnerability. Unaware is about checking assumptions. There will always be people unaware of potential harms and benefits of data, digital, and technology. Expect this.

V is for vulnerable and vital interests. When we design our software and interactions for the majority, we make the vulnerable even more vulnerable. When we design for the vulnerable, everyone advances. Vital interests is a GDPR term, which helps us think through the power dynamics of consent when working with vulnerable groups.

W is for wifi, waterfall, and W3C. Wifi is a way to connect to the internet. However, it can be easily intercepted, especially when on a public wifi connection, so think twice about sharing sensitive data. Waterfall is a method of managing IT projects, breaking them down into smaller parts and then delivering the project all at once. It is often seen as the opposite of agile. A Zoom waterfall is a newer term with entirely different meaning. W3C is the World Wide Web convention which is the main international standards setting body for the internet. We would not have the internet today without it.

X is for XML and xenodochial. XML is a common data language used for exporting and importing data in data sharing work. Xenodochial is a greek word for ‘friendly to strangers’ and is a fancy way of sharing ‘user friendly’. How we design our datasets, collections, analysis, and software, the user should be front and centre in our minds.

Y is for yak shaving because who doesn’t love a yak. Yak shaving is a term meaning a series of apparently useless tasks needing to be completed in order to reach the next milestone.

Z is for zombies and zettabytes. A zettabyte is a 1 with 21 zeros after it, sometimes called a zebibyte. Many laptops can now be purchased with a terabype of storage, which is a 1 with only 12 zeros. However, in the world of responsible data is it good to remember less is more, so don’t aim for zettabytes. Zombies are often brainless creatures, we need the opposite more than ever now. We need people who think, people who care, people like you.

And lastly, Z is for zamboni because I’m Canadian and you can take a Canadian away from ice, but you can’t take the hockey away from a Canadian.

So there you have it, part two of the alphabet book complete.

Photo by Amador Loureiro


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