The Ethics of Big Data as Seen through the Gun Map

The balance of privacy and the public need for information will be a major theme of the library’s January 30 symposium, Big Data and Big Challenges for Law and Legal Information

Privacy and data is now entwined in the national discussion about gun control.  Many people have seen the interactive map posted on website of the Journal News identifying the names and addresses of all gun owners in New York’s Westchester and Rockland counties. In light of the mass murder in Newtown, Connecticut, the newspaper created the map using names of addresses listed in the New York public records.  Designed to inform readers about the prevalence of gun ownership in their neighborhood, the newspaper’s maps have disturbed gun owners who feel the website violated their privacy rights and leaves them vulnerable to attack.

Jeff Sonderman of the website recently wrote an article to further the discussion of journalistic ethics when working with big datasets.  Titled Programmers Explain How to Turn Data into Journalism & Why that Matters, Sonderman’s piece ends with a list of considerations people should contemplate before posting personal data.  Below is a very simplified summary of his factors.

  1. Do you have a reason for publishing the data, or are you doing it “because we can”?

  2. Have you considered reasons why not to publish it?:

    1. Who could be harmed

    2. Is the data accurate

    3. Is it relevant to the story

  3. Are you presenting the data in a way that maximizes the benefit and minimizes the harm?

The library invites you to participate in the discussion about big data by watching the symposium live online on Wednesday, January 30.

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