Do No Harm and Surprises

by | Nov 3, 2021 | ICT4D |


Surprises can be both good and bad – my wife surprised my with chocolate and learning my mum’s cancer was terminal was also a surprise.  Most of us will likely agree on chocolate being a good surprise and terminal cancer being a bad one.  However, sometimes this isn’t so.  A surprise birthday party might be a good surprise for some of us, while others, would hate it.  Same event, different reactions.  The categorisation of the surprise is in the eye of the beholder.

Organisations collecting and using data or any sort always have an impact – it could be positive or negative, but never neutral.  Most of the time, when we talk about harm in the digital space, I think what we are actually talking about are negative surprises.  Generally, we are fine with organisations having data about us and using that data to improve the services and products they provide us.  

Similarly, most recipients of aid are ok with us collecting data about them and using it to delivery aid more efficiently.  

The challenge comes with negative surprises.  When the data we collect gets used for all kinds of things we didn’t or couldn’t imagine. And when these ‘things’ cause us harm.  

However, thinking about harm as negative surprises can lead us to more short term thinking. I don’t like surprise parties, but the ‘pain’ of such an event is short term. It is a moment in time. Digital data has a tendency to stick around. According to blockchain enthusiasts, it sticks around forever. Therefore, this requires a different way of thinking.

Photo by Nikhita Singhal


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