Ethical Dilemma of Big Data

Big Data is a hot new topic in analytics, and the advancements of technology are providing limitless possibilities. Big Data is the combination of information from diverse sources to create knowledge, make better predictions and tailor services (Martin, 2015). Though it is considered a technology itself, it must not be forgotten it is also an industry (Martin, 2015). The question that must be asked regarding this growing industry is, what are the ethical boundaries of Big Data?

It would seem much of what Big Data does is relatively minor in scope, even harmless in many ways, however the metaphor of the slippery slope indicates how ethical transgressions can be the result of minor deviations of method (Zachrisson, 2014). To date, Big Data has been criticized as being a breach of privacy, potentially discriminatory, as distorting the power relationship, and, in some ways, simply creepy behavior (Martin, 2015).

With the use of Big Data, firms have targeted individuals for products they did not request or know they needed, ignored citizens when making road repairs, informed friends and family of pregnancy or engagement, and even charged consumers based on the computer type they are using (Martin, 2015). Big Data sources have gathered license plate numbers, identified individuals in pictures, assisted in location based stalking, used a health score from purchasing habits to determine insurance benefits, and even discriminated individuals through prices offered for items (Mayer-Schönberger & Cukier, 2014). This does not line up with ethical behavior, which is associated with honesty and decency in relationships, and an absence of deceit, exploitation, misuse, injury, and violation of other people (Zachrisson, 2014). Big Data is framed as ethically neutral, but the question that needs to be asked is: does the unauthorized gathering of information coupled with the possibly discriminatory use of said information seem ethically neutral?


Martin, K. E. (2015). Ethical Issues in the Big Data Industry. MIS Quarterly Executive, 14(2), 67–85.

Mayer-Schönberger, V., & Cukier, K. (2014). Big data: a revolution that will transform how we live, work, and think (First Mariner Books edition). Boston: Mariner Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Zachrisson, A. (2014). Ethical breaches and deviations of method in psychoanalysis: A heuristic model for the differentiation of boundary transgressions in psychoanalytic work. International Forum of Psychoanalysis, 23(4), 246–252.

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