Why are digital ethics so important? What kinds of things are being taught in school? And, what kind of success are we seeing among young people who are our future? We invited educator Paola Saibene to the GoodTech Vidcast for a conversation on digital ethics in today’s climate. Proceed to read a recap of the show, or watch it in its entirety here.

Teaching Digital Ethics

“My Bachelor’s and Undergraduate Degree in Philosophy ruined me for life,” Paola says. It made her never think about a topic in the same way again. “I walked away having been taught by some of the best minds in the world. From there I had a couple of careers – one as a literature and linguistics professor at the university. I also became a psychologist and worked in psychiatric wards. Then I became a technologist, and I’ve now been a technologist for 25 years. But before that, I had those pieces in place that actually helped me approach things in a very holistic manner. I’d say why I’m overall very passionate about digital ethics is because of the impact it has on people. It’s an opportunity to educate people and let them have a say.”

The age range of Paola’s students tend to vary from early twenties, all the way to people in their sixties. Paola’s goal is to ignite a passion for questioning among her students. She says, “We start off with a baseline that is so radically different from one student to another. I have a ton of international students, which I love. I am an immigrant in the United States myself, and I always find a lot of resonance with people that come from other parts of the world.”

Paola is always amazed at how her students come into her class thinking it’s more of a philosophy class. She says, “What it actually is, is a chance to reflect deeper on our actions, and on the actions of the government and of those around us. And, to have conversations about what the right thing to do ought to be. Not just for ourselves, but also for those who don’t have as much of a voice. The elderly are not digitally connected, and a lot of things are being done with their data. Do they know?”

Who Is Interested In Digital Ethics, And Why? 

“Interestingly, a lot of my students come in just because they have to,” says Paola. “So, they come in without wanting to be in the class, but they walk away telling everybody that they must be in my class. They’re saying ‘how did we survive without it?’ The ones that are already interested in the class are people that are thinking about their children or grandchildren and the effect that all of it has on them.”

In addition to teaching digital ethics, Paola is the founder of Privacy Mind. In her own words, Privacy Mind is about helping executives and leaders at large or mid sized organizations wrestle with the implementation of privacy regulations. She says, “There’s a lot of ambiguity in the laws, and there’s a lot of different ways of understanding how it affects their supply chain, their manufacturing, their customer interaction etc.” Since Paola comes from a background of technology, and has been in leadership positions, she saw Privacy Mind as a great opportunity to help others with their missions.

Why Are Digital Ethics So Important?

In these trying times, why are digital ethics so important? Paola says that we need to think of the compromises that might be made in terms of privacy for individuals, for the sake of public health. “Surely there isn’t going to be a perfect balance,” she says. “There are going to be errors. But, the key consideration is what gets reversed, and what doesn’t get reversed. If we look at history, we know that things that get rolled out by governments or large organizations are very difficult to roll back in. During a time of crisis, people may agree to forego some of their rights. On the other side of what we’re seeing, one of the key concerns that I have is when the anonymized health-related data can be de-identified. When that takes place, what are the guardrails of that anonymization? There are several degrees of anonymized data, and many can easily be re-identified by simply getting public records.  What happens then? Those are the two big areas I think we need to focus on from a digital ethics perspective.”

Due to COVID-19, the spread of health data is increasing around the world. What can happen to our privacy rights as a result? What are the dangers? Paola says, “There’s a lot of sharing of data going on right now, because under the name of research, a lot of these public regulations allow for data to be interoperable. The problem is, at least in the US, that the HIPAA regulation has not caught up to the advances of technology. So, in the name of research and helping with the development of vaccines etc, there’s a whole lot of testing, research and data mining going on, that is honoring older regulations. It’s not quite bound by the dangers of newer technology.” Whether or not this can be stopped is a separate dialogue, Paola says. But, she says it’s important to put some thought into what can be done after the crisis is over. How are we going to make sure that we put things back where they belong?

For those who don’t know, Paola explains that HIPAA was made to protect and cover entities, to allow doctors or nurses to be protective of their data. Paola says, “I want to be very mindful of what protection means. In the US, privacy-related data is still being seen as something that you own. The GDPR opened our eyes to a different mindset. The way I interpret the GDPR is that data is something that you are. It is not something you own. …You are in the data. So, the level of care or protection about what is done with you, which happens to be through the data, is a lot more comprehensive and deeper. That mindset then needs to have a more careful line as to what happens with that interoperability of health institutions and organizations across the world as they’re trying to combat the coronavirus.”

The Future

Paola says there is always hope for the future. “All I know is that I can impact those around me, and that is tremendous,” she says. “My intent is to not base my hope on seeing that a few billion people will change their minds. Instead, I try to pass on the war to as many as I can, and have them think for themselves. I want to ignite a huge community of thinkers, not just feelers.”

As final words for the show, Paola tells us that there is tremendous voting power in what we purchase and who we purchase from. She says, “What we have in our pockets has the ability to change. Everything we like, or not like, about how our data is being treated, can change through our money. Just consider that.”

Want to see more of the GoodTech Vidcast? Tune in every other Thursday at 6pmCET/9amPST on our YouTube channel, here.

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