Security and privacy have always been at the core of data governance. Typically, company policies, processes, and procedures have been designed to comply with these regulations to avoid fines and in some cases jail time. Very internally focused.  

However, companies now operate in a more external and connected fashion than ever before.

Let's consider this. Two stories in the news have recently exposed an aspect of data governance that muddies the water on our definition of data ownership and responsibility. After the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the Journal News combined gun owner data with a map and released it to the public causing speculation and outcry that it provided criminals information to get the guns and put owners at risk. A more recent posting of a similar nature, an MIT graduate student creates an interactive map that lets you find individuals across the US and Canada to help people feel a part of something bigger. My first reaction was to think this was a better stalker tool than social media.

Why is this game changing for data governance and why should you care? It begs us to ask, even if a regulation is not hanging over our head, what is the ethical use of data and what is the responsibility of businesses to use this data?

Technology is moving faster than policy and laws can be created to keep up with this change. The owners of data more often than not will sit outside your corporate walls. Data governance has to take into account not only the interests of the company, but also the interests of the data owners. Data stewards have to be the trusted custodians of the data. Companies have to consider policies that not only benefit the corporate welfare but also the interests of customer and partners or face reputational risk and potential loss of business.

Policy forms posted obscurely on your website or in a microscopic link in an email aren’t transparent. Complex opt-in and permission settings confuse rather than support data owners to communicate allowed use – think about what happened when Facebook’s permission setting were so complicated that Randi Zuckerberg’s personal status was accidently syndicated across the world.

Ethics matter to your customers and your partners. Providing transparency to your data governance policies and the appropriate mechanisms for data owners to truly govern their data at points of interaction and engagement is critical. Blur the lines between your back-office and front office, and even extend to the interactive edge for comprehensive data governance across all data owners. Keep in mind that by not addressing ethical use of data in your governance policies and procedures, there are unintended consequences that may not harm you, but certainly can affect or harm your customers and partners. 

By the way, the interactive tool that the Journal News posted to show gun owners on a map? Ultimately the Journal News took down the site on January 18 after reconsideration. 

What’s your policy for ethical use of data?

This blog originally appeared at Forrester Research.