Big Data, Data Analytics, and its effects on Individual Privacy



Big data analytics has aided to present a new perspective of the world and is associated with beneficial outcomes including innovation in services, advance business techniques, increased margin of production to better medical services among others. There are many sources from whence data emanates as sensors gathering information on climate, social platform posts, visual-graphic pictures and videos, records of business contracts, radio frequency identifications gadgets and GPS on mobile phones among others (Herschel & Miori, 2017, p. 31). Utilization of big data over time is challenged owing to claims of it an inappropriate use of individual data and information, violation of privacy, profiling persons, and discriminations among other dire consequences. This paper examines two ethical theories; Utilitarian and Kantianism in relation to big data and data analysis as they pertain to personal privacy.

Big data has been acknowledged as a vital step for governments and firms since it gives them the ability to collect, share and evaluate and execute a large amount of data in a view to augment relationships with consumers, to exploit or act upon new opportunities and better service delivery in terms of management of supply chain and procurements, healthcare systems, innovation in product and service manufacture and improve the current ones. However, this process portends a risk for consumers since big data is indiscriminate in nature, sometimes cannot be managed or is incomplete and inaccurate. This fact means the privacy of individuals could be violated in the process (Herschel & Miori, 2017, p. 32). Individual decisions will also be influenced by big data and data mining predictions and certain behaviors will be adopted subsequently. This begs the ethical concerns of big data and analysis of data with regards to Utilitarian and Kantianism ethical theories. This paper will be based on the argument of Utilitarianism and Kantianism ethical theories. While Utilitarian argues that big data and data analytics predictions are ethical since they seek to promote greater good – the wellbeing of people in terms of enhancing security and also bettering services accorded to them, Kantianism argues that immaterial of the outcomes of data mining prediction to provide options for situations, respect to individual privacy is a priority and should never be infringed upon at any cost whatsoever.

Big data and Analytics effects on Individual Privacy

We are living in an epoch of big data, at a critical revolution time of it at that. Pertinent predictions and astounding insights have been discovered by big data and data mining at a larger scale. Our communities and lifestyles over half of the past century were impacted and transformed by the information revolution, which is on the brink at this time. Each and every single human interaction, activity, and judgments such as courtships, the way people shop, healthcare systems, education systems, franchise patterns and administration processes, are being influenced by big data forecasts (Ida, Christoph, Craeme, & Michael, 2016, p. 2).

Essentially, big data emanates from social platform users like those using Google, Facebook or Twitter and gadgets with system sensors like location sensors in mobile phones and vehicles sales (Nunan & Domenico, 2013, p. 4-5). These provide a basis upon which personal information and behavior are collected for organizations interested in deciphering relationships and patterns to increase them. Organizations collectively gather, analyze and share data amongst themselves for financial reasons (boyd & Crawford, 2012, p. 670). Individuals are coaxed to provide data by being offered big data software and applications and the resulting data is exchanged or sold between organizations until its value is depleted. New markets have risen in the society in which individual choice is no more a basis but rather the implications of monitoring and manipulation of personal data and behavior to benefit the societal actors like governments and corporates.

This rate and the potentials of this social change is a clear indication that this moment is critical since it will determine what norms, cultures and general understandings of the data mining predictions in the years to come mean to us (Lee, 2017, p. 293). The current policies safeguarding privacy are not sufficient since the emerging secondary data mining has infringed on identity, confidentiality, and privacy of personal information. Governments and corporations have had access to personal information on our social mobility and internet services. Furthermore, this data mining is on the rise.

This paper seeks to determine the question of ethical responsibility as well as moral responsibility to safeguard the privacy of other people’s information. It begs the question of whether individuals are morally obligated to guard personal information. Should privacy protection be considered as a government, corporate and individual responsibility? Confidentiality and security of information are based upon the quality of fairness and obligation to respect other individuals. Is privacy protection an ethical requirement for anyone? If it is in the affirmative, how does it influence decisions, policies, and laws? The paper tests the issues on ethical requirements of safeguarding personal privacy at the same time theoretical problems have repercussions on this case. Personal privacy protection question is important and timely. This is because this is an era where people easily and largely reveal their privacy. Private and personal data is accorded to relations and strangers alike on grounds of reasons ranging from egocentric, benevolent or public-good endeavors.  

Application of Theoretical Tools – Utilitarianism and Kantianism

Generally, ethics refers conduct analysis impacting either negatively or positively on other people in terms of harm or benefits. Different ethical theories have been developed which guide individuals to make convincing, applicable and reasonable arguments. Explanation of ethics as guidance morally for behavior and tenets of truth reveals the Utilitarian and Kantian perspectives as theoretical foundations for the ethical human behavior of financial and economic actors. Kantian ethics asserts that moral qualities and tenets as being honest and responsible are a basis for ethical decision and actions. On the other hand, Utilitarian ethics concerns itself with results of an action that is, an action intended to exploit helpful outcomes for many actors (Ida, Christoph, Craeme, & Michael, 2016, p. 3). The two perspectives present benefits and constraints for the big data case. They are explained in-depth below.

The Kantian ethical theory developed by German Philosopher Immanuel Kant concerns itself not with our actions, but rather with what we are expected to do (Robert & Adam, 2018, p. 1). What we are expected of reveals our dutifulness which in turn reveals good-will that is the yearning for rightly done deeds with basis on rules that everybody is expected to be in line with. It, therefore, asserts that a dutiful individual is one acting with regards to a moral rule (Robert & Adam, 2018, p. 2). These moral rules are unequivocal and imperative meant to command us in the path of actions and will. These imperatives are also two-fold; hypothetical or categorical in that, the hypothetical ones are conditional depending on what you are attempting to achieve while categorical imperatives are unambiguous and unconditional (Robert & Adam, 2018, p. 6).

In essence, a categorical imperative asserts that one should act in line with moral as they would expect others to while another prohibits taking people as a means to achieve a certain goal but rather as an achievement because everyone has a moral worth and deserves dignified treatment. According to Kant, rules are supreme; all individuals are of a similar standard and there are provided principles that guide behavior (Robert & Adam, 2018, p. 7). To Kant, what really matters is not the result of an action but rather regards to rules towards the achievement of it. It asks the question, should obligation respect people as similar by all standards supersede and act morally be a basis for information confidentiality and security? Should there be a rule that binds everyone to protect their data no matter the outcome of giving it up? At individual level should everyone respect the laws governing privacy? Should governments and corporations be the custodians of privacy or individuals should? Should determination of policies be general or confined to particular cases (Metcalf, Keller, & boyd, 2016, p. 9-10)?

Consequently, Utilitarian theory, an ethical theory which determines justness basing on the outcome of an action or a guiding rule. The action in utilitarian view applies utility principle to personal moral actions while the guiding rule in Utilitarian view applies utility principle to moral guiding rules. Justness is described as either right or wrong, a right action being one resulting in greater joy for the larger community or society while a wrong action is one that reduces joy and happiness of the involved factions (Donner, 1998, p. 256). A right guiding moral rule of behavior is that which is embraced by everyone and results in accumulated joy for the factions involved and a wrong rule is one on the contrary.

In this perspective, one needs to make an estimation of the actions or rules that will give the best outcomes. A discernment of the good and bad factors impacting on a situation should be done to determine the accumulated outcome of an action or guiding rule. In this theory, therefore, the outcome is the key (Donner, 1998, p. 279). In the case of big data, the utilitarian asks the question; how does big data affect the making of policies and rules? It further expounds on the question of pertinent moral qualities and duties calling for data protection, that how will an outcome determine which rules are put in place for personal privacy? Should enhanced security and better services to the public be a basis of government acquiring too much private data?

Application of the ethical theories to big data matters

The above aforementioned ethical theories are therefore useful for comprehending how ethics govern big data, data mining and analysis related issues. It elucidates the role of ethics in governing concerns of privacy of data.  There are potentially varied implications of ethical concerns of analysis of big data to individuals and societies (Ida, Christoph, Craeme, & Michael, 2016, p. 4). Albeit privacy being explored, other issues such as the influence of decision making, individuals being profiled and victimized, monitoring of individuals and other ethical concerns of big data still needs to be looked on. 

Kantian analysis prioritizes on the paramount respect of everyone’s independence and regarding them as ends and not means to a certain end. Big data are in contravention of this since people are regarded as a means to achieve the organizational goal. Many corporations argue that user information and behavior captured is often used to come up with improved or new products and services (Richards & King, 2014, p. 402). Others claim that users can opt out of organization’s ability to gather and share user information with their partners but in essence, it is impossible to monitor and control the data flow after giving them data. Even if users utilize modern services to inform them on impending thefts of identity, credit-related issues or social media mentions, it does not prevent but rather needs them to respond to data that has an impact on their privacy and security.

The Kantian rule also exhorts people to treat others as per laid out rules. Big data is in total contravention of this since people’s previous views on online platforms are used to determine what their future preferences will be. Big data is therefore problematic to Kantian since Kantian is categorical in that it recognizes people as rational and autonomous beings who should be respected and acknowledged as the same universally (Ida, Christoph, Craeme, & Michael, 2016, p. 4).  Kantian answers questions raised as follows, that data confidentiality and security must be upheld, there should be laws and policies to govern big data and analytics, it is both an individual and organizational responsibility and duty to protect personal data and that rules should be autonomous and govern one and all cases generally.

The utilitarian ethical theory requires one to qualify the total positives and negatives of an outcome of big data to determine its ethical stand (Julia, 2014, p. 1). To decide whether big data is wrong or right, one takes the alternative which results in chances of better positive to many people. It prioritizes what big data brings for the majority and not the actors. The utilitarian rule is quite simpler than Utilitarian act since it directs that the outcome of following a moral guiding rule would be a higher accumulated joy and happiness (Donner, 1998, p. 283). A person needs to weigh the positive and negative outcomes to the entire community in order to qualify it as ethical or not. However, this method is fraught with equivocality since the determination of pros and cons is a tedious and financially straining endeavor. Furthermore, we cannot all agree on a common ground for what is beneficial and what is harmful. However, it answers the questions raised as follows, rules and policies governing data mining should be made after checking on its outcome value, moral qualities and duties and qualities on data protection are determined by the extent at which big data will bring greater joy and happiness to the society and that governments and corporations can acquire as much data needed from individuals to better services accorded to them.


Ethics aids us in framing our assertions of qualifying something as is right or wrong. It, therefore, informs our arguments on big data as either morally right or wrong. Using the Kantian and Utilitarian ethical theories, therefore, gives us an opportunity to elucidate our perceptions of big data in a clear manner basing on principles of moral virtues with regards to personal privacy. Our daily lives and individual private data are being impacted upon majorly by big data in terms of our relationships with those around us. Apart from the devices we have and those surrounding us contributing to it, we also contribute. Ethical theories, therefore, are our rationale for evaluation of courses of action related to big data and enable us to understand the divergent views on big data and privacy-related issues. Albeit the ethical theories differ in the recommendation of big data, it opens a discourse for curbing the ethical challenges in personal privacy associated with big data. Results of big data have equally positive impacts as innovations in medicine, analysis of our behaviors, globalization, better education systems and world security among other positive impacts, which is an indicator that it is here to stay. Further questions are raised, however, such as what are the impacts of data science on climate and environment? What should be done to illegally acquired data? What are the probable self-regulation measures for big data? How should the benefits and harms of big data be qualified in terms of criteria and parameters? Applying ethical theories hence gives a better understanding and management of big data and its effects on our lives.