Big data, big responsibility

As digital technologies and big data are becoming increasingly prevalent, ethical challenges arise. In the lecture ‘Corporate Digital Responsibility’, part of the Digital Management module, Dr. Lara Lobschat dives deep into this topic. “Some companies consider digital ethics as a threat. However, systematically integrated in corporate culture, it offers opportunities for creating business value.”

 

Dr. Lara Lobschat is Assistant Professor of Marketing at the Department of Marketing and Supply Chain Management at Maastricht University School of Business and Economics. After completing her PhD at the University of Cologne, she worked as an assistant professor of Marketing at the University of Groningen before joining UM in 2020. Her research interests lie on digital marketing with a special focus on digital advertising, social media marketing, and customer journey analysis. Moreover, she is interested in companies’ responsibility towards customers and other stakeholders when applying digital technologies and using customer (big) data, i.e., Corporate Digital Responsibility. She is one of the leaders of the special interest group ‘Digital Marketing’ within the European Marketing Academy (EMAC), she serves on the review board of the Journal of Business Research, and her research has been published in several leading academic journals.

Examples

Lara kicks off the session with a few examples: an Amazon AI recruiting tool that turned out to be biased against women. The Duplex feature (robot caller) of Google Assistant accused of being designed to deceive people. Mobile phone apps constantly collecting detailed locations data. Startup Clearview AI helping law enforcement match photos of unknown people to their online images. “Issues like these can be avoided by systematically exploring potential ethical issues, preferably in an early stage of development”, says Lobschat.

Three levels

“Digital ethics is relevant on three levels; consumers, society and companies”, Lobschat explains. “Consumers value their privacy and want to have control over their data. It’s important for society because advanced technologies like for instance AI, can have a great impact both positive and negative. And companies should realise that ethical discussions in an early stage can avoid legal issues, reputation damage and costs. Even if legislation is lagging behind, in the end an ethical decision offers a company more value.” “The objective of digital ethics is not to make the world a better place, but to avoid negative effects on consumers and society.”

Real-life cases

Students presented and discussed real-life examples of business ethics in their companies. To name a few: a multimedia and software company launching deep fake software. After realising the ethical implications, detection software had to be implemented. Or the set-up of a centralised HR-system, combining information from different HR systems, posing the ethical dilemma that the large amount of personnel data enabled many analyses. How far should these go? Or the loyalty programme of a large hotel chain, offering guests extra points when using an Uber. What’s in it for the hotel and how is privacy of guest guaranteed?”

 

Corporate Digital Responsibility

Corporate Digital Responsibility (CDR) is a novel concept that can help companies to systematically deal with digital ethical challenges. Lobschat explains: “CDR is a set of shared values and norms guiding an organisation’s operations with respect to four main processes related to digital technology and data; the creation of technology and data capture, operation and decision making, inspection and impact assessment and refinement of the technology and data. In each of these four activities potential ethical concerns may arise. CDR guides the company through these issues in all four stages.” “CDR is not a ‘stand-alone’ method”, Lobschat emphasises. “On the contrary, CDR is an integral part of an organisation’s corporate culture, its norms and values. It helps employees to know what to do and how to behave in certain situations. Digital ethics is not about transforming the firm, but about creating awareness, having an open mind and pushing the right buttons.”

Reflection on session CDR

Ahlem Chanteloup Slama (34), project management manager at Emerson Automation Solutions, found the session fruitful and enjoyable. “It was interesting to hear more about the ethical issues of companies like Google and Amazon. My takeaway is that it’s important to work on CDR from the beginning of a project in order to tackle the risks and to create the opportunity to make a difference. The session was a valuable part of the total Digital Management module as it made us reflect on the responsibility and impact of the data analysis process.”

 

 

This article displays the student insights and experiences of our On-Campus MBA Digital Management module of the Digital Business elective. Our On-Campus track has an on campus learning format and is part of the executive modular part-time MaastrichtMBA programme. The programme has a Triple Crown accreditation and is aimed for professionals with at least 5 years of working experience.

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