Big Data and Ethics in the UAE

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Big Data and Ethics in the UAE

In the modern world, collecting data is an essential way of increasing company sustainability and ensure effective advertising, as well as other forms of communication with stakeholders. In this regard, acquiring Big Data is a contemporary approach to learning information and making prediction regarding the future alterations in customer demands. Moreover, analyzing Big Data ensures home security, which means that this approach is a subject of significance in political realms. Besides, the insights obtained by processing Big Data shed light on the expected socio-cultural changes, which are important pieces of information in both political and economic planes. Given the impressive commercial utility of Big Data, scholars predict that it will “form a key asset in future business models” (Adam & Coutts, 2014). Specifically, it can be used to anticipate market behavior and significantly advance the process of market segmentation (Adam & Coutts, 2014). Despite the immense positive effects of Big Data, collecting information closely borders on unethical behavior connected to privacy breaches and other related crimes that can significantly deteriorate the quality of life of common people. Therefore, it is natural that countries strive to regulate the processes of screening, analyzing, and implementing Big Data. Hence, considering the rapid technological progress and fast accumulation of data, it is hardly possible to align this process with enacting a legal base for ethical usage of information. This paper aims to discuss the legal and ethical considerations of using Big Data and analyze the role of Big Data in the Higher Education sector of the UAE.

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Big Data Literature Review

The term Big Data does not have a clear definition. Instead, it is understood simultaneously as immense pieces of information that are retrieved or can potentially be derived from a range of devices and the remedies/analytical tools utilized to process this data. In this regard, Andrejevic and Gates (2014) state that the notion of “big data” refers to both the unprecedented size of contemporary databases and the emerging techniques for making sense of them” (p. 186). The diversity of Bid Data implies that this process is complicated and time-consuming. Moreover, it is obvious that information needs to be screened continuously due to fast aging. Big Data can be received from telecommunication devices, credit cards, interviews, applications that are converted and stored in on-line databases, etc.

In most cases, scholars prefer to concentrate their attention on the positive outcomes of using Big Data. For example, Diebold (2012) predicts that Big Data will be used to anticipate errors and mistaken conclusions, which implies that the life of humans can be improved thanks to various kinds of emerging technology. Specifically, the scholar assumes that the positive impact of Big Data will be “ranging from cloud computing and associated massively-parallel algorithms, to methods for controlling false-discovery rates when testing millions of hypotheses, with much in between” (Diebold, 2012, p. 5). by acknowledging these advantages, researches direct their expertise towards two major targets of using Big Data: security and economic prosperity. The latter gives rise to such terms as business intelligence and business analytics, which became the derivatives of Big Data (Chen, Chiang, & Storey, 2012). These terms suggest that intelligent business differs from its predecessor – the trial-and-error approach. Instead, by implementing Big Data today, it is possible to choose the right path and target the proper audience with greater probability of immediate success.

Nevertheless, one should emphasize “the tripartite link among academia, corporations and government is an uneasy agreement” (Muir, 2015, p. 356). Specifically, each of these domains wants to own and utilize Big Data, but it is obvious that their goals do not always coincide. In addition, there is another domain that gains awareness of the possibilities of Big Data – the society at large. Snowden was the first to attract the attention of the public to the ethical considerations of collecting Big Data that was conducted by the US government (Lyon, 2015). On one hand, it is known that “security is becoming a key driver of surveillance, not only at the ‘national’ level but also in general types of policing, urban security and in workplaces, transit systems and schools” (Lyon, 2015, p. 144). On the other hand, Big Data users (whether they do it for the purposes of national security, science and research, or business) often violate ethics during the process of collecting, analyzing, selling, and using this information. The next section is aimed at discussing the UAE laws that function to ensure the legal and ethical use of Big Data.

The UAE Legal Facets and Acts that Regulate the Usage of Big Data


The first principle that regulates the appropriateness of data use in the UAE is ownership. This consideration means that “Big Data should be analysed only if the business owns it via an intellectual property right or has a data licence to use it” (Adam & Coutts, 2014). In addition, it is assumed that this year only around 30% of businesses worldwide gain profits from selling the data that is in their ownership to third parties (Adam & Coutts, 2014). This information stresses the urgent need to protect the data from being sold to players who may utilize it for malevolent purposes. For instance, a company may purchase data about its rivals and use it to create unethical competition (Adam & Coutts, 2014). In this case, not only does the businesses suffer, but other stakeholders can be negatively impacted by the unethical use of Big Data.

Specifically, the quality of goods and services may deteriorate because of the monopoly of the most sustainable business. Similarly, employees and communities may suffer from the decrease of profits of the companies the information of which was sold to rivals. For example, the intensified power of competitors may encourage decreasing the number of job positions and/or social benefits. What is more, the safety of workflow may be compromised by the need to cut manufacturing costs. In other words, the matter of ownership is an essential consideration that should be taken into account. Besides, not only must the company be the owner of shared information, but the parties that want to acquire this data should have the right to become the owners. In other words, it is necessary to ensure that the buyers are going to use Big Data for ethical purposes.

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Another principle that regulates the use of Big Data is privacy. This facet postulates that the implementation of Big Data should not contain a disclosure of personal information without permissions of individuals/entities who produce this data and to whom it belongs (Adam & Coutts, 2014). In other words, Big Data users must guarantee the consent of persons/entities that produce information “before the transmission of such personal data” (Adam & Coutts, 2014). Moreover, these users should “consider carefully the consequences of the inadvertent disclosure of mass data or the contribution of information to open-source data sets” (Adam & Coutts, 2014). Despite the fact that the laws of the UAE do not include regulations regarding the usage of Big Data, they have a set of penal, cybercrimes, and telecommunication laws that have to be considered while working with this information. These laws will be reviewed in detail below as they relate to data protection.

Data Protection

To begin with, it is important to stress that data protection in the UAE is intended to maintain both of the above-discussed principles (privacy and ownership). In particular, the Article 378 of the Penal Code informs that any information about a person may be published without their consent (Dowle & Judson, 2016). In addition, to the violations of this kind one may attribute “posts on social media which display people or their property without their consent” (Dowle & Judson, 2016). Furthermore, the Article 379 of the Penal Code states that “an offender who is a public official or in charge of a public service, and has been entrusted with the secret during, because of or on the occasion of the performance of his duty or service” should be subjected to imprisonment (Dowle & Judson, 2016). Linking these laws to the process of working with Big Data, it is natural to deduce that both of them are oriented towards individual pieces of personalized data. Instead, Big Data is immense and often may be impersonalized. Therefore, these laws may be applicable in certain cases of privacy breaches. Particularly, the latter one may be relevant if a person possesses the data that they were not authorized to acquire.

What is more, Article 2 of Cyber Law (as cited in Dowle & Judson, 2016) suggests imprisonment and/or a fine of at least AED100,000 and up to AED300,000 for a person found to have gained access to a website, an electronic information system, information network, or information technology without authorization or in excess of authorization, or unlawfully remains therein.

In addition, according to this law punishment can be even more severe if applied to a person whose actions resulted in data distortion, disruption, disclosure, etc. that occurred as a result of the above-mentioned unauthorized access (Dowle & Judson, 2016). Furthermore, Article 21 of the Cyber Law claims that an individual accused of a privacy breach is subjected to imprisonment and significant fines (Dowle & Judson, 2016). The complexity and ambiguity of this particular legal statement is that it is applicable even towards persons who access private information without intention. For example, taking pictures of other people and their properties, overhearing a private conversation on the cell phone, etc., are only several examples of the violations that are regulated by the Article 21 of the Cyber Law. Given that Big Data contains a lot of materials that may accidently include the aforementioned types of information, it is possible to suggest that this law may be utilized to regulate the use of Big Data. Hence, presently, it remains unclear how to avoid this ambiguity and not to punish the individuals who may acquire certain information accidentally.

Similarly, Article 22 of the same law states that “a person found to have used, without consent, any computer network, website or information technology means to disclose confidential information, which he has obtained in the course of or because of his work” should be subjected to incarceration and/or up to 1 million AED fine (Dowle & Judson, 2016). This law is well-applicable to Big Data usage. Consider a case in which an employee accidentally or purposefully accesses the results of Big Data mining. This information is now compromised. As a result, its value is decreased, if not demolished altogether, by the fact that it is not confidential any longer. In other words, it can be used not only by those who purchase this data, but also by third parties in an unpredictable way. Therefore, businesses that specialize in collecting and processing Big Data for utilizing it further for commercial purposes should know that they are protected from computer/network intrusion by the 22nd Article of the UAE Cyber Law. Hence, these companies should be aware that they are vicariously responsible for protecting their informational assets from unauthorized intrusion. In particular, according to the UAE Cyber Law (Article 17) businesses that work with data can be held liable if not anticipating or preventing the cases of breaches by employees and other third parties (Dowle & Judson, 2016).

Finally, it is appropriate to mention that an administrative fine can be imposed against “licensees for violating the Telecommunications Law or its executive order, and decisions, regulations, policies or instructions issued by the TRA (Article 79, Telecommunications Law)”(Dowle & Judson, 2016). This legislative regulation strongly correlates with the facet of ownership. Specifically, it refers to its principle of non-exposing the data to entities/people who are likely to use it for malevolent purposes or in other ways that may inflict negative outcomes on the users of telecommunications. Overall, the above-discussed laws function to protect the small pieces of private data and, partially, Big Data within the principles of confidentiality and safe copyrights, which is a decent multi-faceted approach to ensuring the safety of users and entities (organizations, businesses). In this regard, the strongest point of the present laws is that the collection of Big Data should be done only with the permission and consent of users, which leads up to the fourth facet of obtaining large pieces of information called ‘opting-in’ (Dowle & Judson, 2016). Nonetheless, in spite of its strong points, the legislative base described above is not sufficient for covering all the possible implication of the use of Big Data in the UAE. Apart from legal violations there are ethical considerations. In most cases, these two notions are interwoven. Presumably, the main difference is that ethical misconduct can sometimes remain unpunished by law.

Ethical Considerations of Using Big Data

Working with Big Data (collecting, analyzing, clarifying, selling, utilizing for commercial purposes) evokes a lot of ethical considerations. The core of the related ethical dilemma is that Big Data industry is full of both potential benefits and perils (Martin, 2015). This ambiguity complicates finding the single correct solution for ethical considerations connected to Big Data. This section is aimed at analyzing the main ethical issues that stem from acquiring and using this kind of information. The technological remedies that are used to collect Big Data are GPS, facial recognition, and license plate readers (Martin, 2015, p. 68). On the one hand, these technological devices serve to investigate crimes, which means that with their help the police are capable of keeping crime rates under control. Moreover, knowing that they are more likely to be found with the help of contemporary devices, potential offenders may decide against committing crimes. On the other hand, these technologies violate the principles of privacy because every individual is being constantly tracked. In these conditions, the collection of Big Data is an inevitable process. Similarly, this suggests that acquiring and screening personal data is also inadvisable.

Striving to explain why tracking people may be unethical, one should stress that the harm caused by this process goes far beyond the ethical dilemma of privacy breaches. In addition, it provides opportunities for real harassments. For example, certain individuals may stalk other people with the help of the above-mentioned devices (Martin, 2015). As a result, this technological knowhow facilitates crimes, such as causing lots of physical and mental harm to victims or even murdering them. That is why the principles of privacy and ownership, as well as state legislative regulations, should serve to eliminate the possibility of acquiring Big Data or private information by individuals who may use it for malevolent purposes.

Simultaneously, Big Data suggests both favorable and dubious implications in terms of the collected context, which is mostly retrieved from users’ on-line activity. For example, in the healthcare realm, the system may collect information about one’s illnesses, harmful habits, and lifestyle. In case this data is utilized by insurance companies, a person may be refused when obtaining insurance. Moreover, users can be exposed to on-line advertisements that propose not what they actually need, but what they are likely to purchase according to their browser history. Besides, processing Big Data in the healthcare sector may result in attributing a particular health score to every user that needs to be screen while applying for a job (Martin, 2015).

Another example of the questionable use of Big Data is the possibility to discriminate against the applicants in the educational sector due to the data available about users (Martin, 2015). These examples illustrate the violation of ethical principles of equality. In particular, it is known that equal individuals should be treated equally. In this regard, using Bid Data may create less fair conditions for persons that would be equal if their data was not considered.

Apart from that, significant ethical considerations are evoked by accidental or purposeful failure to receive the sample’s consent to be screened. What is more important is the omission of ensuring individuals’ awareness that retrieved information can be utilized against them. In most cases, this violation happens at the stage of data collection. The authors of experiments and/or companies that monitor people’s habits realize that they may not receive permission if the sample is fully and correctly informed about the process and possible implications of data retrieval (Klitzman, 2014). The ethics of research state that scholars are obligated to receive the sample’s consent prior to collecting data. Hence, in addition to high likelihood of refusal to participate and reveal personal data, individuals tend to behave differently when they are informed about being monitored. This is another reason why scholars prefer to violate this ethical rule. A recent example of such violation is the collection of Big Data by Facebook that was done without consent of its users (Klitzman, 2014).

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Robert Klitzman (2014), the scholar who researches this violation of both privacy and ownership principles, informs that “Facebook conducted a study on nearly 700,000 users by manipulating their news feeds”. Specifically, the authors of this experiment altered the content shared on Facebook from highly positive and motivating to depressing and negative. At the same time, they monitored the users’ reaction towards the shifts in content. As a result, a connection between individuals’ mood and shared content was detected. The change of personal statuses and various posts were taken as the main indicators of mood shifts. This experiment illustrated that people’s emotional condition might be altered with the help of social networks (Klitzman, 2014).

This survey is unethical because even though Facebook’s policy warns users about utilizing the data they share, the sample was not informed about manipulations with their mood. The harm that can be caused by such experiments to individuals with mental instability, anxiety, depression, and other psycho-emotional issues may be considerable. Therefore, this experiment is an example of the extent to which the collection of Big Data can violate ethics. What makes the things even worse is that it remains unclear who can use the acquired data and to what purposes. It is obvious that implementing these findings can endanger the users much more than the experiment itself. In addition, this example reveals a violation of the principle of safe ownership of Big Data. Therefore, the legislative regulations should be advanced enough to ensure that similar mass violations will not happen again.

The UAE Educational Organizations Utilizing Big Data

Today, the UAE experiences a rapid growth of the educational segment. This benevolent tendency stipulated the necessity to collect data about enrollers, students’ satisfaction, preferences and behaviors, their demographics, future employment, most popular courses and programs, etc. (Wakin, 2015). There are two educational organizations that specialize in collecting, processing, and utilizing Big Data with the purpose of expanding the abilities of native educational establishments and increasing the quality of education. These organizations are the Center for Higher Education Data and Statistics (CHEDS) and the United Arab Emirates Ministry of High Education & Scientific Research (Wakin, 2015).

The complexity of working with Big Data in UAE educational centers is stipulated by its diversity, which means that the process of structuring should be automatized. An example of the categories created to classify Big Data that is derived from local educational establishments can be observed in Table 1. The diverse data collected from Higher Education establishments includes students’ profiles, their academic success in each field, scholarships, research outputs, etc. Undoubtedly, this screening touches the private sectors of students’ life. Thus, to ensure that this research is conducted ethically, students are informed about the fact that their personal data is being constantly monitored and analyzed. In other words, sharing data is voluntary (Wakin, 2015). Furthermore, CHEDS and United Arab Emirates Ministry of High Education & Scientific Research operate in accordance with the 17th Article of Cyber Law; they do their best to anticipate possible breaches of information. Specifically, “the data are maintained on secure computer servers with strict access measures to ensure privacy and confidentiality” (Wakin, 2015). In a word, it is natural to deduce that these organizations screen and operate Big Data within ethical and legal frames.

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The factbook revealed by United Arab Emirates Ministry of High Education & Scientific Research (n. d.) presents structured data in the modern sector of higher education. The example of the demographics of students can be found in Table 2. This visual serves as evidence that processing Big Data provides immense opportunities for improvements and further development. For instance, by observing this information, one may conclude that the educational sector of the UAE expands rather quickly, which means that the initiatives, remedies, and approaches that are currently deployed by scholars are workable and effective. In particular, it means that collecting and analyzing the corresponding Big Data is an effective way to learn what improvements should be done. Moreover, this table allows identifying what audience should be targeted to attract more students (geographic areas, gender, and other peculiarities). At the same time, it is possible to assume that this information creates a basis for potential discrimination in admissions. Therefore, working with Big Data should be accompanied by a guide that lists what should be done to avoid the negative consequences of using Big Data.

Summing up all the information discussed above, it is appropriate to highlight that Big Data is a global industry the function of which is to collect and process great pieces of information about living patterns of the humanity. In this regard, every state utilizes Big Data to ensure home security and boost economic growth. Despite the benevolent purposes, using Big Data raises ethical dilemmas connected to privacy breaches, safe ownership, and inequality (enhanced possibilities for discrimination). To address these issues, the UAE enacts regulations that belong to Cyber Law, Penal Law, and the Telecommunications Law. This legislative base is strong in terms of protecting small pieces of personal information; however, the legacy of utilizing Big Data is only partially addressed by these laws. The ambiguity of Big Data can be observed in each field, but this paper was limited to analyzing the use of Big Data in the UAE Higher Education industry in detail. The two organizations that work with Big Data in this area are CHEDS and the United Arab Emirates Ministry of High Education & Scientific Research. The discussed structured data on students’ demographics reveals that implementing this technological approach is quite beneficial for the development of the industry. Moreover, Big Data allows advancing academic environment to increase students’ satisfaction. Nonetheless, it also creates opportunities for manipulation and discrimination of admissions, which is a risk of such rapid technological advancement. Therefore, using Big Data should be restricted to exclusively benevolent functions. In other words, the legislative base of this state should be improved further to ensure that the ethical issues connected to the obtained data are eliminated.

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