Future Data Practices

Perpetuate Inequalities or Design for Change?


~300 words


Last modified: January 3rd, 12,019 HE

For this Briefing, Imagination Lancaster academic Dr Malé Luján Escalante (who, coincidentally, I once did a Mandarin course with) presented her research into future data practices and digital ethics in emergency response and health.

Her work has focused on developing a method by which to separate digital from human, understood as practice—a cultural study of technology through co-creative methods. Primarily, she has been looking at vulnerable data subjects—oftentimes not thought of by system designers—in particular dementia patients. This research has led to the creation of the isItEthical project, which collects examples of ethical dilemmas and their workarounds in order to develop guidance.

Escalante suggested that there was a nomenclature issue at play in many of these discussions. For example, privacy means something very different to a computer scientest than to her 13 year old son, and a flood means something different to a farmer, to the Red Cross and to Public Health England. Criticising the situtation of having a tiny weeny office for an ethical committee, with a boring form that allows you to do whatever you want after you are approved, Escalante was interested in moving away from the idea of ethics as a tickbox list and away from problematic ideas of user-centered design.

The issue with this user-centered design, thought Escalante, is that it usually uses just one profile—Alan, usually male, white and Western. Instead, Escalante envisages a move to ethics through design and publicly rather than privacy. Through her isItEthical project, she has been working with engineers to solve the issue of sharing data with third parties, with no way of knowing who shared the data. The only time a British person is entirely in control of their personal data, suggested Escalante, is when their parents are given a red book shortly after birth.