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Data ethics

It’s important that you collect and use any data ethically. The project discussed in the previous Steps used ACORN groups for classification.

A Classification Of Residential Neighbourhoods (ACORN) is a consumer classification scheme that segments the UK population. By analysing demographic data, social factors, population and consumer behaviour, it provides precise information and an understanding of different types of people. A classification scheme helps anonymise the data, but provides a structure that allows analysis and comparison.

The ACORN groups allow a broad categorisation of the people taking part in the survey, whilst protecting their individual identities. The categories do not provide data for example on the size and structure of the household, so it is impossible to know why some groups might consume more or less electricity than another, except by assumption.

Review the definitions of data ethics on the internet. What impact could a failure to apply data ethics have on you or your employer? These could include:

  • Legal implications: It’s possible that you could break the law in the way that you collect, store, process or present data. This could result in you losing your job, fines or even imprisonment.

  • Reputational: There is a significant risk to your reputation or that of your employer. If a national newspaper, for example, discovered that you were using data in an unethical way, this could harm the business and lead to loss of revenue.

  • Personal/Professional: If you were involved in an unethical use of data (even unknowingly) you may find it harder to obtain future employment.

How does this impact on how you might collect, use, store and share data? Impacts are likely to be around data capture, storage of data and how it is processed. The general rule is only collect what you need, use it for the intended purpose, store it and process it securely.

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Big Data and the Environment

University of Reading

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