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Ethicause was founded to explore the potential of using data ethics training for all employees, and not just data scientists, as a way to reduce security and privacy risks and increase trust.


The Premise

Imagine if all employees could be encouraged to see data through an ethical lens, to always see the humans the data represents, to take greater personal care of and responsibility for sensitive data in their possession, could that new approach to data handling help to reduce data breaches and privacy failures? And make them less costly when they do occur? 


What if employees were encouraged to always ask questions like:
  • Do I really have permission to collect or use that data, and am I living up to our own privacy promises or their privacy expectations?
  • Do I even know what those privacy promises are?
  • Do I really need the data at all for my mission?
  • Am I using it for its intended or requested purposes or something else?
  • Can I take into account the humans – the people, the families, the lives - that data represents?
  • Am I doing all I reasonably, personally can to take care of that sensitive data?
  • Am I doing my best to ensure the data remains accurate, and fairly represents the subjects of that data?

If employees are allowed to ask these questions and think about data this way, there’s a much less chance of them making the kinds of mistakes (or simply data indifference) that could lead to a costly and embarrassing data breach or privacy failure.


The Universal Push for Ethics

There's growing talk about the need for ethics generally, the economic and competitive power of ethics, and the importance of data ethics in discussions about big data and artificial intelligence.

And recognizing this growing movement, in August 2019 the Business Forum issued a statement supported by the CEOs of nearly 200 of America's biggest businesses that ethics must now trump shareholder value as a corporate foundation.

    But data ethics can also be applied to small data and human intelligence, a new front in employee security awareness that can help improve security and privacy by encouraging employees to take a more human and personal approach to handling sensitive data they come into contact with.

    Data ethics can also help take the sting out of a breach or privacy failure - consumers are usually much more forgiving of ethical companies when they mess up.


Avoiding Accusations of Ethics Theater

There's an added bonus to corporate-wide data ethics training. As companies struggle to demonstrate that they're truly ethical, they increasingly run the risk of it backfiring from accusations of ethics theater or ethics washing - as happened to Google recently when they announced and then quickly had to disband their first external ethics board.

But any organization that's able to show it has a corporate-wide, top-to-bottom, round-the-clock commitment to data ethics, and especially as a security and privacy tool, will likely avoid the accusation of simply an ethics stunt. They're clearly walking the walk. And because data ethics training is affordable for even the smaller organization, budget is not an obstacle to better ethics.


The Bottom Line

Every organization should have a data ethics program, even if they don't fully believe in its value. It's good PR, it's great for security and privacy, it's a great trust builder and brand protector, it's good for employee morale, and they're banking forgiveness for future failures.


About the Founder

Neal O'Farrell has spent nearly 38 years in global cybersecurity and privacy, and was one of the first security entrepreneurs to come into conflict with the NSA for his work in advanced speech encryption. He first became interested in the connections between ethics and security when he was invited to be security and privacy advisor to the Stock Act panel in 2013, a Congressionally-mandated study into an amendment to the 1978 Ethics in Government Act. Learn more about him.


10 Reasons Data Ethics Is Great For Everyone


  • Ethics generally is good for business, for building trust, and for fueling brands. Data ethics is the easiest way to demonstrate a commitment to ethics.
  • It can reduce the likelihood of a data breach or privacy failure because it encourages employees to keep data collection and use to a minimum.
  • Data ethics encourages employees to take greater personal responsibility for sensitive data.
  • It can reduce the cost and impact of a breach – studies have shown that ethical companies are more quickly forgiven.
  • It’s great for morale. Most employees want to do the right thing, it’s just that business can sometimes get in the way. Data ethics gives them permission.
  • It’s great for hiring and retention. Most people prefer to work for clearly ethical companies.
  • Data ethics can offer a strong competitive advantage – described by TechCrunch as “the new strategic weapon.”
  • A verifiable data ethics training program can help overcome one of the biggest obstacles to ethics – accusations of ethics theatre or ethics washing.
  • Data ethics encourages employees to see the humans the data represents, and that’s great for everyone.
  • And data ethics training is pretty easy because for most humans, being ethical is second nature.


Some Recent Observations On Ethics

"In an era of data- and innovation-powered business growth, the idea that "everyone is in sales" should be complemented by the notion that "everyone is in ethics."

“As FTC cracks down, data ethics is now a strategic business weapon.”
Source: Tech Crunch

“Trust has become the new battleground for digital success. To win, organizations need to master the fundamentals of data ethics. Companies that earn consumer trust will be better suited to weather the inevitable — and yes, they are inevitable — data and policy breaches.”
Source: Cognizant, "The Business Value of Trust"

"A singular focus on security is not enough. While data ethics is a new area for most businesses, it must be a key consideration as organizations evaluate starting or continuing their digital transformation journeys."
Source: MIT Sloan

“Organizations should begin taking steps now to reduce their exposure to digital risk by integrating a wide array of data ethics practices throughout their data supply chains.”
Source: Accenture



"If data is at the heart of every business, data ethics is the conscience."
Neal O'Farrell, founder of Ethicause.
"Data ethics should be required training for all employees, regardless of role, because of the immense potential it offers for managing security and privacy risks and beyond."
Malcolm Harkins, Chief Security and Trust Officer for Cymatic and former Chief Security and Privacy Officer for Intel.

See more.

Need more information, some logos, a headshot? Contact Neal O'Farrell, founder of Ethicause, at neal (at)