How to Tell If You’re Using Unethical Data

Kayla Matthews

Unethical Data

When people think of unethical data, instances of knowingly tweaking information to make it show misleading conclusions often come to mind.

Indeed, that’s one kind, but the coverage here relates to the information companies get through suspect means. The data may have been stolen or otherwise obtained from people without consent.

Businesses can take several steps to tell if the data they have might be unethical — here are five of them.

1. Be Cautious of Offers of Data That Come Soon After Known Breaches

Data breaches dominate news headlines in today’s society. People give their data to buy things, receive offers from the brands they like and conduct internet-based transactions, such as renewing their driver’s licenses. And, that’s just a start.

As an increasing number of companies collect data, the likelihood of hackers infiltrating systems and taking it goes up. Cybercriminals know data is lucrative, and although they don’t always sell it, they realize personal information is extremely valuable, especially if sold in bulk and the seller has lots of related information.

For example, each credit card number sells for about $1 on the black market. And, experts say the overall worth goes up in multiples of five for each piece of supplementary information, such as a name or an address. The more information a criminal has, the easier it is for them to impersonate victims. Then, they could apply for loans or even appear as eligible for someone else’s tax refund.

So, if people who use data get offers to buy some almost immediately after a major data breach gets publicized, they should be cautious and inquire about the source.

2. Show Concern If the Seller Wants to Keep Their Identity Private

If a seller obtained data through illegitimate means, they might not want to be forthcoming with their name or other details. They may also ask for payment through a method that’s hard to trace, like cryptocurrency.

Both of those things are potential warning signs associated with unethical data. The goal of the seller is to make a profit without revealing too much. Secrecy is the name of the game.

3. Prioritize Making Purchases With Established Companies

Many of the people that provide unethical data operate on the Dark web, so average internet users often don’t know they exist. If businesses or data scientists need to buy data for their projects, it’s best to do business with an entity that has a proven history of providing quality leads lists.

An About Us page, contact details and customer testimonials are some of the characteristics of a company webpage that could indicate trustworthiness. Some sellers of unethical data are becoming more commercialized and set up websites or social media profiles to broaden their appeal.

But, it’s still possible to check domain name registrations or see when a business first appeared on Facebook when deciding whether to proceed with buying data.

4. Understand That Brands Knowingly Buy Unethical Data

Some individuals may assume that if a company wants to stay above-board, it does everything it can to steer clear of data that could be unethical. However, that’s not always the case. Brands including PayPal have compensated intermediaries for buying back data that criminals stole from the companies.

Taking that approach creates an ethical dilemma. Getting the data back prevents criminals from doing what they want with it, likely exploiting victims even more through their actions. But, when companies buy what criminals have to sell, they incentivize them to continue. Even when companies buy back the data that was theirs from the start, they demonstrate a demand that makes thieves feel validated.

5. Keep GDPR Regulations in Mind

In May 2018, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into effect and changed how European Union countries or companies marketing to people in that region of the world must handle data. Several components of it relate to getting consent before processing data. People who buy data from questionable sources should be aware, then, of the possible dangers of unethical data in association with the GDPR.

For example, if a company sends an email to someone in the European Union and got their address from an entity that may have unethically acquired the data, the person could become wary and contact the company to assert they have never done business with the enterprise or even heard of them, so they certainly did not provide consent.

If so, a business could find itself in hot water and unable to answer an angry customer’s queries in a satisfying way.

Unethical Data Is Becoming More Widespread

These tips should help people evaluate data sources and decide whether to trust them. Unethical data is more common than individuals think, but awareness can avoid the potential risks of using it.

By Kayla Matthews

Sangeeta Chhabra

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