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Big data: a normal accident waiting to happen?

Nunan, D. and Di Domenico, M. (2017) Big data: a normal accident waiting to happen? Journal of Business Ethics, 145 (3). pp. 481-491. ISSN 1573-0697

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1007/s10551-015-2904-x

Abstract/Summary

Widespread commercial use of the internet has significantly increased the volume and scope of data being collected by organisations. ‘Big data’ has emerged as a term to encapsulate both the technical and commercial aspects of this growing data collection activity. To date, much of the discussion of big data has centred upon its transformational potential for innovation and efficiency, yet there has been less reflection on its wider implications beyond commercial value creation. This paper builds upon normal accident theory (NAT) to analyse the broader ethical implications of big data. It argues that the strategies behind big data require organisational systems that leave them vulnerable to normal accidents, that is to say some form of accident or disaster that is both unanticipated and inevitable. Whilst NAT has previously focused on the consequences of physical accidents, this paper suggests a new form of system accident that we label data accidents. These have distinct, less tangible and more complex characteristics and raise significant questions over the role of individual privacy in a ‘data society’. The paper concludes by considering the ways in which the risks of such data accidents might be managed or mitigated.

Item Type:Article
Refereed:Yes
Divisions:Henley Business School > Marketing and Reputation
ID Code:44808
Publisher:Springer

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