Ethical glance to data mining for political purposes

Baku, August 24, AZERTAC

Undoubtedly, in the era of digitalization, the priorities of individuals and societies have significantly transformed. Within this process, the perspective of ethical sensitivity slightly changed to privacy. Specific techniques such as data analysis, employed by telecommunications financial services, insurance, customer relationship management (CRM), retail, and utilities to alleviate the burden of the above-mentioned entities from the aspect of attainment of meaningful information. Another technique, data mining has more recently been used by educators, government officials; intelligence agencies, and law enforcement. It helps mitigate redundant data overload, by extracting value from volume. Notwithstanding, data analysis varies from data mining in numerous forms. Namely, process-driven data analysis, accompanied by an opinion or hypothesis, which tries to draw a rational outcome of a pattern, accept or reject a hypothesis, or generalize information to estimate after time actions is not data mining.

The presidential elections in the United States in 2016 and The United Kingdom European Union membership referendum – Brexit was accompanied by the emergence of ethically equivocal techniques and methods. So that the political inducement built and executed on social networking websites to manipulate the outcomes of the elections. Namely, the use of “microtargeting”, a term that refers to direct marketing data mining techniques that involve predictive market segmentation (also known as cluster analysis) has been admitted afterward by the authorities.

In the light of above-mentioned cases, in the contemporary world, the boundaries of privacy constitute a major ethical dilemma. Therefore, the task of defining exactly, what privacy does and does not comprise legal, ethical, and practical aspects is topical for the scholars. In the given context, Jurgen Habermas provides a diverse perspective on the historical evolution of public and private spheres. Habermas categorizes the development of activity as, pre and concurrent with the industrialization process in the West. One of these, the private sphere, includes those areas relevant to the degree of privacy, comprising business, private thought, and the family. The public sphere, however, is not restricted to the spaces not only in which government entities operated but, essentially, also within the bounds private, autonomous individuals avowedly debated patterns and matters of prevalent concern. As time went on, the public sphere established a predominance over previously private considered areas. This established constraints on the ability of individuals to exercise autonomy by practicing private behavior and testing prospective actions. Also, the appendage of the public sphere would be considered as the introduction of data collection, and utilization practices that intervene in the point that Habermas considers as the nucleus of the private sphere, the core of the family which currently, exposed through social networking sites participation and other internet activities.

From the ethical aspect, recent issues form a basis to question whether Kant’s view on autonomy and his theory of categorical imperative adequately generates ethical reactions to the privacy concerns accompanied by the possibility of the usage of the cultivated data to form behavioral profiles and consequently, individuals may be discommoded with a massive volume of politically motived direct and indirect messages to influence their judgments to orient them for voting in favor of specific candidates or issues. According to some scholars, individual autonomy is defined as the core function of privacy. Kant assigned supreme significance to autonomy in his work of the Metaphysic of Morals. The person that can be categorized as autonomous is the one, who acts from reasons, considering facts, and choosing the right actions that one realizes are most ethical in compliance with the categorical imperative. Any intervention to autonomy would create a chain reaction in response, as privacy is the primary concern of individuals in the 21st Century. However, manipulation with autonomy by developing numerous methods with the purpose of the utilization of the personal data of users to orient users/electorate through social networking sites is shaping their decisions by creating behavioral profiles, and undoubtedly, this process dramatically affects the implication of Kant’s Ethical Imperative. From this perspective, if a web service is considering the ethical ramifications of collecting and selling the data of its users, for example, it might ask whether it would be moral for all web services to do so. If the result would limit individual autonomy, as when such data is used to affect behavior in ways its users cannot know, thus limiting someone’s ability to exercise rational judgment, the answer would be no.

As the data-centric business entities and platforms enlarge and diversify their operations, they are obliged to establish an ethical framework of data usage (It is very significant to make a distinction of two terms: data analysis and data mining, as they differ in numerous forms). Though, if their unwillingness to emphasize core issues regarding data problems would continue, naturally, the intellectual components of the system will be induced to engage in and the duty of seeking a solution will be taken by other parties. As a mechanism, microtargeting shall be re-evaluated by ethicists from a comprehensive approach toward this issue. Contrary to popular belief, the ethical analysis will stimulate sustainable growth in the data sphere, as well.

Nijat Muradzada

Bachelor student of Istanbul University

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