DMA welcomes the announcement of funding for the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation | DMA

Filter By

Show All

Connect to


DMA welcomes the announcement of funding for the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation


Today, the government has announced £9m to create a Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation. This follows a report released by the House of Lords Select Committee on Artificial Intelligence on the use of AI in the UK. The fuss over AI and ethics is understandable given recent revelations about the use of data by tech giants and others. Indeed, the house of Lord’s report bemoans the “unprecedented concentration of wealth and power in a small number of corporations” who have control over “vast volumes of data” for their benefit. The report also recognised the way in which companies gather intelligence and target individuals using AI is, in some cases, ethically worrying and a threat to privacy. The new Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation is a welcome step in allaying this concern.

There’s a general feeling that this is a cat-out-of-bag situation and that companies have won the monopoly over the access to data. But there are things that can, and should, be done to change this.

In some ways, consumers have a gun to the industry’s head. The development of AI and the Internet of Things hold enormous potential to use our data to change the way we live for the better. Yet, trends have shown that consumers just don’t use brands they don’t trust.

Speaking recently, Direct Marketing Association CEO, Chris Combemale, noted that “more and more brands are going to have to put their approach to data and privacy as central to their proposition and doing it in a way that can survive in a period of massive change and transformation.”

While GDPR and the new Data Protection Bill will set positive trends around data, there is some more work to do. The House of Lords report’s conclusions and the creation of the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation are a testament to the notion that UK should become an ethical leader in AI.

In practice, this might mean encouraging tech companies to be more open with consumers about how AI systems make decisions, or simply disallowing the systems that regulators deem unaccountable. Furthermore, it says regulators should be given greater powers of enforcement when tech companies don’t play fair.

However, to really thrive, companies themselves will need to go beyond this. To gain customer data in future, companies will have to first prove to the consumer that their lives will be improved by giving their data and, second, that the data will solely be used for the intended purpose. This might well mean that companies like Facebook have to switch to offering paid subscriptions instead of the ‘voluntary’ trading of data for a free service by its users. Whether they can survive doing this is a different question.

Moreover, forward-looking companies will realise that the generations to come will have a different understanding of data and their rights. Polls show that while younger generations are more willing to give their data, they are much pickier about who they trust. Therefore, to be successful in the long-term, companies will have to recognise this new close relationship between customers and their own data and change their ways to cater for it.

A Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation will be a great base from which these pragmatic steps can be discussed and implemented effectively. The DMA welcomes this step and will work to play a part in the creation and running of the Centre. Letting business take the lead with the support of the public sector will provide a fruitful partnership.

Above all, being ethical leaders in data privacy practices seems like a worthwhile aim. Moral questions aside, it appears to make business sense, too. What’s more, with the need to train developers, engineers and marketers to cover the UK’s skills gap, embedding this into educational programmes is an opportunity to both chart an ethical course for generations to come and to set the global standards for rights-respecting data-driven industries.

Hear more from the DMA