Why Do Businesses Need a Data (and AI) Manifesto? Why Do Businesses Need a Data (and AI) Manifesto?
50 years ago, the concept of privacy meant disappearing. You built a wall around your private data, and it was pretty... Why Do Businesses Need a Data (and AI) Manifesto?

50 years ago, the concept of privacy meant disappearing. You built a wall around your private data, and it was pretty easy to keep that wall secure. Aside from governmental intrusion, you didn’t have to worry much about constant feeds of data streaming from your daily activities into the hands of businesses. Then, you wouldn’t have needed a data and AI manifesto. Fast forward, and it’s a given, today, that your daily activities are forming a constant feedback loop for advertisers and businesses, determined to use your preferences to gain your loyalty, trust, and your dollars. The upside is that we have customized solutions to some of our most pressing individual problems. The dark side? The potential to be manipulated in a manner previously only possible in a SciFi dystopia. If you’re a business operating with this type of data (and what business isn’t?), you have a responsibility. The changing nature of privacy will put you in the crosshairs of your potential customers unless you’ve established a thoughtful strategy for navigating through the changing times. You need a Data (and AI) Manifesto.

[Related Article: Why the New Era of Big Data Requires Innovative Privacy Initiatives]

The Nature of Privacy

Data (and AI) Manifesto Our concept of public privacy is changing. The flow of data from our activities can’t be stemmed unless we’re willing to make huge sacrifices by removing ourselves from the public space, something most of us don’t actually want to do. We accept that this data exists. We accept the public record we help curate about ourselves through online activities. So what does privacy mean in the age of and connectivity? Privacy has shifted from something you protect to a concept more relational. Customers want to see their brands use information for good and not for evil, to paraphrase a famous line about superpowers. Think of it like this. In the old days, privacy was like your house. You had the key, and only a select few could get inside. Sure, companies could put huge billboards outside your home or put something in your mail hoping you’d take a moment and look, but ultimately, they had no idea what the inside of your house even looked like. Mailers addressed only to “current resident” are good examples of this. Basically, we know someone lives here, but we don’t know specifics. Now, privacy is more like a hotel. We check into a shared space using our credentials and trust that the hotel will use our information to help us build a travel itinerary specifically for what we like. We know that housekeeping has a key to our room, and while we have valuable items inside, we trust they will clean our room for us while respecting our belongings. In short, we don’t expect a wall around our room, only that the hotel take actions that respect us. We can’t get away from the continuous surveillance of data, but more than ever, we are demanding that companies remain transparent about what they do with your data and treat our data and dignity with respect.

Your Data and AI Manifesto’s Purpose

More of your customers than ever are using brand values to define their loyalty. People are voting with their dollars on a variety of issues, but one many agree on is the right to know where their data is going and the right to determine how their data will be used. A clear manifesto helps your customers understand your commitment to this new paradigm of privacy. From data naturally follows the proper use of AI. In a widely publicized series of protest, Google workers successfully shut down Project Maven, a lucrative deal between Google and the federal government to enhance autonomous drones through a system of cataloging. As more of these events take place, crafting a manifesto will position you to retain values your customers appreciate. Data is a living thing, so crafting a manifesto designed to influence the ethical use of it creates the foundations for building a more inclusive, safe space for that data. We know algorithms can replicate bias, and when built in a vacuum, turn quickly to the types of behavior we find abhorrent in people. AI, as a product of that data, follows suit. [Related Article: 5 Mistakes You’re Making With DataOps]

Your manifesto should include:

  • transparency about how and when you collect data
  • how you use that data, now and in the future
  • promise to notify if how the data changes and allow feedback or opting out.
  • what your organization is doing to examine implicit bias in data.
  • who has access to the collected data, within and outside of your organization.

If that sounds like your existing privacy policy, it is to an extent. However, many companies bury that policy in legal jargon at the bottom of your page. This needs to be front and center in plain language. If you’d rather take the route of joining other organizations in adopting a singular manifesto, there are a few options for you. You could sign on to the Data Practices Manifesto, a document already endorsed by thousands of data scientists, executives, and thinkers within the data space, or a similarly endorsed one, The Data Leaders Manifesto. For AI, Google’s Manifesto after the close of the Maven project is an excellent place to start as well as this open letter from the Future of Life Institute. If you sign on to a manifesto instead of creating your own, make sure your organization plans to live the principles you’re endorsing. No lip service. Setting the foundation for use practices for when, not if, your organization adopts deep learning and AI capabilities is a way to move forward with a technology that has the potential to cause irreparable harm. Fortunately, with the right systems in place, human-centered AI can also help us solve some of our biggest questions.

Elizabeth Wallace, ODSC

Elizabeth is a Nashville-based freelance writer with a soft spot for startups. She spent 13 years teaching language in higher ed and now helps startups and other organizations explain - clearly - what it is they do. Connect with her on LinkedIn here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/elizabethawallace/