Professor Dennis Hirsch leads working group for organizations seeking to use data ethically and responsibly
By: James Grega, Jr.
An expert in privacy law and in the law, policy and ethics of AI, Professor Dennis Hirsch has been a leading force in the discussion about data and data ethics for over a decade.
Hirsch is the faculty director of the Program on Data and Governance, a program of the Moritz College of Law and the Translational Data Analytics Institute (TDAI). The program focuses on how best to govern advanced analytics and AI so that they support, rather than undermine, social values.
Hirsch, in collaboration with Brian Sampsel and Kirk Herath, created the Ohio Data Ethics Working Group in 2021, which is made up of nine companies and The Ohio State University. Following a curriculum that Hirsch designed, the members work together to improve their own practice of responsible and ethical artificial intelligence, and to promote the trustworthy use of these technologies. However, the group does not take positions on matters of public policy.
“In a digital economy, trust is an essential business resource. It has always been important, but it is even more important now,” Hirsch said. “Organizations need individuals to share their data with them. Traditionally, the way companies and organizations have tried to establish and sustain trust was by complying with privacy law.”
“That has changed because of the emergence of advanced analytics and artificial intelligence, which are increasingly important to the way businesses, the government and even universities operate,” Hirsch added. “The problem is that, when it comes to advanced analytics and AI, even if you comply with privacy law, you can still harm the people whose data you are using.”
Hirsch cited Cambridge Analytica and Facebook as an example of how data and advanced analytics were unethically utilized. In that example, Cambridge Analytica was able to use Facebook user data to infer the psychological types of individual users to target them with manipulative political ads designed to appeal to those with their psychological profile.
According to Hirsch, Cambridge Analytica didn’t break any privacy laws. However, it lost the trust of its clients and the public and was eventually forced to cease operations in 2018.
“The Facebook-Cambridge Analytica episode sent a powerful message to companies that, in the era of advanced analytics and AI, complying with privacy law is no longer enough,” Hirsch said. “Companies that use advanced analytics and AI need to learn where the ethical lines are and how to avoid transgressing them. In the working group, we sometimes refer to these as the ‘should we’ questions. 'We can do this technically, and we can do it legally. But should we?’”
The working group meets once every six weeks to learn about and discuss data ethics management best practices. Hirsch prepares presentations and brings in data experts, including fellow Ohio State Law professor Bryan Choi, who discussed tort liability for AI.
Liz Moore is the senior director of data strategy at CoverMyMeds, a company that joined the working group in 2021 when the group was founded. A veteran of data development and management for nearly two decades, Moore said joining the working group was a no-brainer due to the ever-changing landscape of data analytics.
“Our company is growing, but we are also interested in the greater conversation about data technology and healthcare and the landscape of it. There is a lot more visibility into it than there was a few years ago,” Moore said. “I was really excited to be able to bring something to CoverMyMeds that was preemptive in thinking about how we use our data and what responsibilities we have to our patients.”
Hirsch said it is important to note that companies like CoverMyMeds have joined the working group voluntarily to educate themselves and others on the importance of data ethics.
“It sustains their goodwill and trust and serves their competitiveness. These companies are seeing the future and they understand that trustworthy and ethical use of data is only going to get more important as technology advances,” Hirsch said. “I can see the progress they are making already.”=
Hirsch added that he hopes the member organizations can also learn from each other as they continue to educate themselves on best practices. “The ability to bounce ideas off of and learn from peers is a highly valuable aspect of the working group experience,” Hirsch said.
Just like the members of the working group are striving to educate themselves and others on data ethics to further develop trust with their consumers, Hirsch said he is attempting to do the same thing as The Ohio Data Ethics Working Group continues to grow.
“We need to create a trusted environment ourselves in which companies can share what they don’t know and understand in this area, so we can provide constructive feedback and they can achieve their goal of practicing data analytics and AI in a responsible and trustworthy way,” he said.
Organizations interested in joining the Ohio Data Ethics Working Group should contact Hirsch at Hirsch.firstname.lastname@example.org.