Indeed, A design perspective in digital ethics in our digital age! What’s yours?

Design for values in the digital age is one of 2018’s topics to be addressed.

The Ethics Advisory Group of the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) has published its 2018 report.


The EDPS is the EU’s independent data protection authority. As part of the EDPS 2015-2019 strategy, the Ethics Advisory Group (EAG) is set up with the mandate to explore the relationships between human rights, technology, markets and business models in the 21st century.

Design for values

On design for values the report says among others the following:

“Digital ethics will need to accompany rapidly moving technological evolution and become part of the research and development processes swell as cycles of innovation and obsolescence or risk becoming irrelevant. […] Digital ethics that comes after the fact has wasted an opportunity to inform and shape the world. A design perspective in digital ethics would help to overcome this problem, because it would insert moral considerations at the point in which they can make a significant difference with lower costs and risks: at the initial stages of the design and development.”


From the report:

The EDPS Ethics Advisory Group (EAG) has carried out its work against the backdrop of two significant social-political moments: a growing interest in ethical issues, both in the public and in the private spheres and the imminent entry into force of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in May 2018.

For some, this may nourish a perception that the work of the EAG represents a challenge to data protection professionals, particularly to lawyers in the field, as well as to companies struggling to adapt their processes and routines to the requirements of the GDPR.

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Whatis the purpose of a report on digital ethics, if the GDPR already provides all regulatory requirements to protect European citizens with regard to the processing of their personal data? Does the existence of this EAG mean that a new normative ethics of data protection will be expected to fill regulatory gaps in data protection law with more flexible, and thus less easily enforceable ethical rules?

Does the work of the EAG signal a weakening of the foundation of legal doctrine, such as the rule of law, the theory of justice, or the fundamental values supporting human rights, and a strengthening of a more cultural approach to data protection?

Not at all.

The reflections of the EAG contained in this report are not intended as the continuation of policy by other means. It neither supersedes nor supplements the law or the work of legal practitioners.

Its aims and means are different.

On the one hand, the report seeks to map and analyse current and future paradigm shifts
which are characterised by a general shift from analogue experience of human life to a digital one. On the other hand, and in light of this shift, it seeks to re-evaluate our understanding of the fundamental values most crucial to the well-being of people, those taken for granted in a data-driven society and those most at risk.

The objective of the report

The objective of this report is thus not to generate definitive answers, nor to articulate new norms for present and future digital societies but to identify and describe the most crucial questions for the urgent conversation to come. This requires a conversation between legislators and data protection experts, but also society at large – because the issues identified in this report concern us all, not only as citizens but also as individuals. They concern us in our daily lives, whether at home or at work and there isn’t a place we could travel to where they would cease to concern us as members of the human species.

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