What is the ethical issue?

The amount of personal information available and the different ways in which it is collected has expanded exponentially in recent decades. Connected devices, from cars to smartwatches, which generally assist people in their daily lives, use the internet to transmit, collect and analyse data. 

The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), introduced in 2018, has created a challenge for organisations to apply ethical values to data capture, and be transparent and responsible when doing so. GDPR has sought to give control back to individuals over how organisations use their personal data, and has encouraged transparency so that organisations demonstrate the value of exchanging data.

Although companies have greater access to data, there is also a responsibility to use it responsibly.

The 'data trust deficit', where public trust in the appropriate use of their data by companies is lower than trust generally, has potential to negatively affect the reputation of companies or whole industries, such as the scale of technology and data use.

Data privacy breaches may be complex, and organisations may face an ethical dilemma as to how and when to disclose. On the one hand, organisations may want to be open and transparent; on the other hand, they may fear losing customers or investors.


IBE Guidance

A summary of good practice
  • Organisations must balance the consent, collection and use of data to improve performance and services, with a commitment to respect the privacy of stakeholders.

  • Organisations also need to have appropriate security measures in place to ensure personal data is protected from destruction, loss, alteration, unauthorised disclosure or access. Customers and other stakeholders need to be assured that the information they provide is safe and confidentially stored.

  • In the wake of significant data breaches, organisations must ensure they have measures in place to report openly and transparently what they are doing to ensure that the personal data of all stakeholders is protected. If there has been a breach, the organisation must consider carefully its obligations to its stakeholders with regards to disclosure.


Further resources 

Publication type: Survey

Embedding Business Ethics: 2020 report on corporate ethics policies and programmes

This report is the ninth in the triennial series looking at corporate ethics policies and programmes. It is the IBE’s longest-running survey series, and continues to give valuable insights into how companies run their ethics programmes.

01 April 2020

Publication type: Business ethics briefing

Business Ethics in the News 2019

This briefing provides an overview of the ethical concerns and lapses that were recorded by the IBE in its monitoring of media coverage in 2019. It gives an overview of which sectors and issues related to business ethics were most covered in the news. For 2019, we have recorded a total of 361 different stories involving lapses of companies with a UK presence.

29 January 2020

Publication type: Survey

Attitudes of the British Public to Business Ethics: 2019

The 2019 results of the IBE's annual survey of the attitudes of the British public to business ethics.

17 December 2019

Publication type: Board briefing

Corporate Ethics in a Digital Age

This Board Briefing suggests questions for those in the boardroom to ask to help address the ethical challenges of AI in their businesses. It uses case studies to highlight the real-world dilemmas which boards are facing.

04 June 2019


What are the hot ethical topics E&C practitioners need to know?

03 June 2019

Publication type: Business ethics briefing

The Ethical Challenges and Opportunities of Social Media Use

Social media presents organisations with both ethical challenges and opportunities. As it blurs the boundaries between our personal lives and work, it can be a difficult balance for companies to protect their reputations, uphold their responsibilities to stakeholders, and empower employees to use social media ethically and effectively.

02 May 2019


What were the ''hot'' ethical issues of 2018?

Now here is a surprise! The UK public’s trust in business has jumped and is at its highest level since 2003.

05 February 2019

Publication type: Other

A Year In Review: Ethical Concerns and Lapses 2018

Read the IBE's annual analysis of business ethics news stories from the last year - which were the sectors and issues most in the news in 2018?

30 January 2019

Publication type: Survey

Attitudes of the British Public to Business Ethics: 2018

The 2018 results of the IBE's annual survey of the attitudes of the British public to business ethics

13 December 2018

Publication type: Business ethics briefing

Beyond Law: Ethical culture and GDPR

What are the wider ethical implications of GDPR? How can an organisation’s values be embedded and monitored so that the new regulation becomes a measure of those, rather than simply a set of compliance rules that must be ticked off?

30 May 2018

Publication type: Business ethics briefing

Business Ethics and Big Data

This briefing seeks to bring some clarity to the ethical issues related to Big Data, defining why they are relevant to companies and where the main ethical risks might lie. It also provides a set of questions that can help ethics practitioners liaise with their colleagues and make sure that their organisation lives up to its values when dealing with Big Data.

07 June 2016


What ethical issues will be more important in the future?

03 January 2016

Publication type: Report

Ethics in the Provision and Use of IT for Business

This report draws attention to the issues, dilemmas and challenges that are common when IT is used to achieve business initiatives. It provides guidance for all business managers on planning, implementing and evaluating the provision and use of IT so that ethical challenges are anticipated, and the organisation's ethical values and commitments are not compromised.

07 January 2010