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Sorry if this is the wrong SE, but in my mind it made the most sense to ask this here.

My question is related to specifically collecting information about a target demographic, not individuals which is obviously unethical.

For example, say that you’re starting a business selling brown leather shoes, and you want to know what kind of demographic likes brown leather shoes, and you find some data leak that (for some reason) has a bunch of descriptors for people who buy brown leather shoes (like age, how much they paid for their shoes, their general location, etc.).

Would collecting that data in aggregate to inform a predictive model be unethical, since no one individual’s privacy is violated in your usage of the data?

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  • $\begingroup$ What do you mean by "data leak"? Where do the data come from? $\endgroup$
    – Nikos M.
    Commented May 17, 2023 at 20:41
  • $\begingroup$ I am not sure about the precise meaning of "data leak" but one should also consider the possibility that the data might be inaccurate, obsolete, fake, etc . $\endgroup$
    – Nikos M.
    Commented May 18, 2023 at 14:02
  • $\begingroup$ Let’s say for sake of argument that I mean relevant, timely data to my issue that is leaked by bad actors dumping it all on the internet, my main concern is the ethics of taking something useful that was shared illegally, but not tying it to specific individuals. Basically I want to know if that last step makes it more palatable ethically speaking. $\endgroup$
    – Justin T
    Commented May 18, 2023 at 21:27
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    $\begingroup$ For this hypothetical scenario the data, even if correct and useful, are a result of privacy breach and thus their use entails legal consequences. $\endgroup$
    – Nikos M.
    Commented May 18, 2023 at 21:38

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Even if no personally identifiable information is revealed about individuals, collecting data from data leaks can still raise ethical and legal concerns.

This is because such data is often sensitive information about a specific group of people. Using this data without their knowledge or consent can lead to potential harm, especially if it is used to inform a predictive model that could potentially be used to target this group of people for marketing or other purposes. It is important to consider the ethical implications of any data collection and use, and to ensure that individuals' privacy and consent are respected.

Additionally, the laws and regulations surrounding the use of data obtained without consent vary by country. In the European Union, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) requires explicit consent for the processing of personal data. In the United States, there are various federal and state laws that govern the use of personal data, such as the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Other countries such as Canada, Australia, and Japan also have their own privacy laws. It is important to research and understand the laws and regulations in your jurisdiction before collecting and using any data.

While most large companies have policies in place to ensure ethical data use, it's not always the case that they follow them. Some companies may prioritize profits over ethics and may be willing to take risks when it comes to data collection. However, there are consequences for companies that violate data privacy laws, including fines and damage to their reputation. It's important for companies to prioritize ethical data use and for individuals to hold them accountable when they don't.

It is always best to obtain data through ethical means such as opt-in surveys or public data sources. It's also important to be transparent about your use of the data and to obtain informed consent from individuals if possible.

I hope that provides some more insight to your question!

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