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Code of Ethics: a comprehensive guideline for responsible action

Since December 2018, the Expert Group for Data Ethics within the Swiss Alliance for Data-Intensive Services has been working hard to create a comprehensive Code of Ethics for data-based businesses. Now the long work has borne fruit and on 10. December 2020 the Code of Ethics was published and presented at an online press conference.  The Code is a tangible contribution from our Alliance to help companies make data-based business compatible with the core values of our society, and in avoiding damage to reputation. It is a contribution to ensure the social acceptance and sustainability of data-based value creation in our country.

In recent years the availability of data has increased enormously which has led to a profound economic change. In many sectors, SMEs and large companies are considering how to develop new products and services by collecting, buying, storing and analysing data. This process of data-based value creation is accompanied by regular reports on unethical behaviour such as the violation of customer privacy, the use of “unfair” algorithms or unintended social effects of new data services. These incidents undermine consumer confidence and are partly responsible for the fact that even carefully designed apps such as the SwissCovid app are met with scepticism by quite a few people.

Trust in data-based value creation does not only depend on compliance with data protection law. In contrast to various comparable documents, the code addresses concrete problems of data management in a practice-oriented manner. It not only explains the basic ethical issues, but also provides concrete recommendations. Furthermore, it addresses the question of how the code of ethics can be integrated into the concrete business processes of companies. The code is therefore a comprehensive guideline for responsible action. The code is intended to help companies and institutions to boost the confidence of consumers and politicians in the value-added use of data.

The code of ethics comprehensively addresses all relevant issues related to the data lifecycle and aims to help both SMEs and large companies to achieve ethical data value creation. 

It consists of the following documents: 1) Overview 2) Basics 3) Recommendations 4) Implementation 5) Context. 

The code was developed by experts from the Swiss Alliance for Data-Intensive Services. In particular, representatives of the “Digital Ethics Lab” of the Digital Society Initiative of the University of Zurich, technical experts from Zurich and Valais Universities of Applied Sciences and representatives of companies were involved. 

The Code of Ethics is available on the Alliance’s website in German, English, French and Italian.