The Ethics of BI with Private and Public Entities

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Business Intelligence (BI) involves the collection of data; translation of the data into information; and interpretation of the information to help in decision-making. The goal of Business Intelligence is to make more informed decisions within an organization. For private businesses, these decisions translate to reducing waste and increasing profit. For governmental (public) agencies, these decisions translate to increased transparency and enhanced citizens' services.

However, while the goal of BI might be to make better decisions, it can also come at the expense of violating ethics - especially the ethics of privacy. Ethics is defined as a system of moral principles, based on which common laws are created in society. However, an unethical act does not necessarily make it illegal. Businesses seek to gain an advantage by sometimes using information unethically, though not necessarily illegally. Even government agencies have at times exposed private information under the guise of transparency - an act of questionable ethics.

Given the Internet's pre-eminent status as a premier communications tool, Internet privacy is of great concern in today's world. Average Internet users do not want their personal information to be exposed, especially if it is likely to cause financial or physical harm to them. Yet every Internet user has a different ethical notion of what sorts of information are considered private, and what are not. Because of this lack of clarity, businesses and governments need to explain to their users what their privacy policies are, and allow people to make choices on whether to use a particular service. Problems usually arise when businesses and governmental units assume that they have a legal right to information from users, and thus disregard privacy concerns.

In this paper we show how businesses and governments gather information, set rules as to how this information is used and accessed, and how that converges to or diverges from current ethics-based laws. We discuss laws that have been or are being created to handle the ethical and privacy concerns resulting from BI. We discuss cases where the allure of profits, or the reliance on BI was so great that businesses chose to violate their own terms of their privacy policies. We cite examples where businesses and governments gather information from the unknowing public. We compare federal laws and regulations with State laws and compare US laws with that of neighboring Canada. We conclude by providing an analysis of BI and privacy, and provide some suggestions on how to harmonize the two.

BI, ETHICS AND THE INTERNET

Internet Data Collection for Commercial Purposes: Who Collects it and Why?

The Internet has changed the way businesses target their marketing efforts. Instead of running billboard ads, print ads, and commercials on radio and TV, businesses can now market directly to users' computer screens as they navigate the Internet. Users, through their navigation patterns, leave behind a "trail of cookies" that marketers then collect and study. It is through these patterns that businesses develop strategies to tailor advertisement to users.

Internet browser "cookies" were in vented in 1994 by Lou Montulli for the Netscape browser. They were intended to be the "eyes and ears" of digital store fronts, similar to an attentive shop keeper in a brick and mortar store (Singleton, 2000). Other methods that web based businesses use to track users include: click-tracking logs of all user navigation, form data submissions, and server requests logs that track information such as the IP addresses of users, date and time stamps of their actions, as well as the name of their operating system and Internet browser.

A variety of cookies called third party cookies are often used by businesses to track user behaviors, but their usage remains extremely controversial. These cookies are placed on a user's computer by a Web page they've visited, but not by the company that created the Web page. …