A new report from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission outlines several questions for organizations to consider in order to help ensure that their use of big data analytics avoids outcomes that might be exclusionary or discriminatory.

“Big data’s role is growing in nearly every area of business, affecting millions of consumers in concrete ways,” Edith Ramirez, FTC chairwoman, said in a statement. “The potential benefits to consumers are significant, but businesses must ensure that their big data use does not lead to harmful exclusion or discrimination.”

The report, “Big Data: A Tool for Inclusion or Exclusion? Understanding the Issues,” looks specifically at big data at the end of its lifecycle: how it’s used after being collected and analyzed.

The study highlights a number of innovative uses of big data that are providing benefits to underserved populations, including increased educational attainment, access to credit through non-traditional methods, specialized health care for underserved communities, and better access to employment.

The report proposes four key policy questions that are drawn from research into the ways big data can present and prevent harm. The policy questions are designed to help companies determine how best to maximize the benefit of their use of big data while also limiting possible negative affects, by examining both practical questions of accuracy and built-in bias as well as whether the company’s use of big data raises ethical or fairness concerns.

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