Michael Sturrock: Who should have the right to exploit data?

This evening, business ­leaders, academics and senior politicians will ­gather in the Scottish Parliament to learn about the Value of Data ­campaign, led by Europe’s largest not-for-profit trade association in the data and ­marketing industry, the DMA.

Michael Sturrock, external affairs executive, DMA
Michael Sturrock, external affairs executive, DMA

The Value of Data campaign is ­multi-faceted. Above all, it lays down a challenge to re-examine data as an entity and commodity and to reflect on how it is used by individuals, ­businesses and wider society.

The event marks a pivotal moment: Scotland is uniquely placed to become a world leader in data ­ethics. The quality of research, the number of businesses, the amount of investment, and the access to skills is matched only by a few other ­places the world over. This is not, however, a time for resting on our laurels. To remain ahead of the curve, ­businesses, academics and policymakers need to start asking difficult questions now.

Should tech giants have any right to the data we produce on their ­platforms; how do we ensure that prejudices and negative human biases don’t enter the data world and embed discrimination; what are the limits to government access, storage and use of citizens’ data; and how might we share data to create a fairer and more sustainable society?

The big challenge for business is to create navigable roadmaps through a complex ethical and legal landscape while allowing bold, innovative and data-led approaches to thrive. While we are only beginning to tackle these issues, it is imperative that businesses consider these questions to build trust, particularly in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica and Facebook scandals.

What’s more, discussions need to be had on how to prepare society to operate successfully in a data-driven world. What if your job is going to be made obsolete by AI or automation? According to PwC research, AI expansion in Scotland is expected to make 544,000 jobs redundant. If that’s a foreseeable probability, should you be entitled to government-funded reskilling to be able to occupy one of the 558,000 jobs PwC estimates will be created?

On that point of reskilling and education – experts say soft skills, problem-solving and STEM education need to be a core part of any future-proof education system. But how do we ensure that the curriculum will prepare the two-thirds of children who will grow up to do jobs that are yet to exist?

Ultimately, these questions are about much more than changing business objectives or reframing how we see citizens’ or customers’ data rights. Many of the answers to these questions fundamentally ­contest the present way we interact with each other at a societal level – in our homes, schools, cities or with family, friends, colleagues, or even government.

Support for this initiative is strong. Tonight’s event has cross-party sponsorship from Green Party co-convenor Patrick Harvie MSP, Conservative shadow digital minister ­Finlay ­Carson MSP and SNP convenor of Digital Participation Cross-Party Group Willie Coffey MSP.

Remarks will be given by the Minister for Business, Fair Work and Skills, Jamie Hepburn MSP, University of Edinburgh chair of Design Informatics Professor Chris Speed and chair of DMA Scotland (and one of the DataIQ 100 most influential data and analytics practitioners in the UK) Firas Khnaisser.

Speaking ahead of the event, Mr Hepburn, said: “I fully agree with DMA Scotland that data-driven ­innovation has the potential to ­support change and innovation, delivering vast business benefits to the Scottish economy. This government is committed to ensuring ­Scotland is strongly positioned to realise that potential.

“In Scotland we have world leading expertise in ethical, legal and social disciplines that we are engaging with as we work to address the ethical, legal and security challenges that data science and AI developments can present.

“Privacy and trust are hugely important issues. As a government, we fully understand that privacy must be respected and data must be used ethically. The ethical use of data underpins its efficacy, and is key to securing and sustaining public trust and support as we secure the benefits that big data can deliver for us.”

While there are more questions than answers right now, the stage is set for Scotland to thrive as a world leader in data and ethics. To learn more about the Value of Data campaign and how to be part of it, see https://dma.org.uk/article/value-of-data

Michael Sturrock, external affairs executive, DMA.