​Ethical and Governance Aspects of Data Science ​


20 - 22 January


​Target audience 

This course is suitable for postgraduate students, staff and professionals with an interest in ethical and governance issues related to data science. No prior training is required.  


The field of data science raises a host of ethical and governance issues. This course will provide participants with the necessary critical thinking skills to grapple with these. Specific themes that will be covered include th​e following: 


What are you giving up when you sell your data? Can you escape Google? The use of “free” services, for example, social networking platforms, often requires agreement to allow these platforms to access and use your data. In this section, we will discuss what users are sacrificing when they agree to these terms, if anything, and whether it is possible for us to opt out of using these services without serious inconvenience. 


Does consent still matter? How do you say yes when we don’t understand? In this section, we will discuss the historical justifications that have been offered for the importance of consent, and in particular, the links between consent, privacy, and autonomy. We will determine whether these justifications are still relevant in the context of data science. We will also discuss the practical challenges involved in ensuring that consent is informed in the age of big data, and examine the ethical appropriateness of different models of consent for particular data contexts. Finally, we will discuss the risks attached to overly restrictive policies with regard to consent.


Whose data is it anyway? What sort of commodity is access? In this section, we will ask who owns the information we generate. We will also examine what ownership of data means in various contexts, and whether ownership necessarily implies the right to control or a right to benefit.


Who decides who you are? What do we lose when we all agree? Individuals attach importance to their ability to decide for themselves who they are. While others have always had the ability to make judgements about who we are by summarising or aggregating our identities, both at the level of the individual and the group, this ability is magnified in the age of big data. In addition, data-fed feedback loops can reinforce, entrench, or nudge us towards particular views, preferences and behaviours, potentially leading to online echo-chambers and exacerbating political polarization. 


Can Google be racist? Is the web classist? In this section, we will investigate the possibility of algorithmic bias. We will also discuss ethical issues that are raised by inequalities in access to technology in the context of data science. 

Expected outcomes 

Participants will acquire the ​skills to identify, analyse and critically engage with ethical and governance issues related to data science. 

Course format

Lectures, interwoven with discussion of practical case studies. 


Prof JP Smit 

JP Smit is Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Philosophy. He holds a DPhil from Stellenbosch University (completed in 2003 under the supervision of AA van Niekerk) and a P.D from Cambridge (completed 2013 under the supervision of Simon Blackburn).  The first thesis was on meta-ethics, the second on the theory of reference. His research interests are in Semantics and the Philosophy of Economics. 

Dr Susan Hall 

Susan Hall is a lecturer in the Department of Philosophy and Centre for Applied Ethics at Stellenbosch University. Her research interests include ethical issues raised by technological innovation, and she lectures in Moral Philosophy, Philosophy of Technology, and Bioethics. 

Prof Vasti Roodt 

Vasti Roodt  is an Associate Professor in the Department of Philosophy at Stellenbosch University and the Head of the Unit for Social and Political Ethics in the Centre for Applied Ethics. Her research specialisation is moral and political philosophy. 

Dr Anna Hartford 

Anna Hartford is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Applied Ethics at Stellenbosch University. She is interested in the ethics of shame and punishment online, and questions of digital memory and forgetting. 

Dr Minka Woermann 

Minka Woermann​  is a senior lecturer in the Department of Philosophy and the Head of the Unit for Business Ethics and Public Integrity in the Centre for Applied Ethics. Her research interests include post-structural philosophy, critical complexity theory, ethics, and business ethics. 

Dr Tanya de Villiers-Botha 

Tanya de Villiers-Botha lectures in philosophy of mind, philosophical naturalism, and Ancient Greek and Medieval philosophy at Stellenbosch University’s Department of Philosophy. Her research interests include philosophy of mind and cognitive science, meta-ethics, and ethics. 

Prof Johan Hattingh 

Johan Hattingh is Professor of Philosophy and Head of the Unit for Environmental Ethics at the University of Stellenbosch. He has extensive experience in the teaching of Practical Logic and Critical Thinking Skills, Philosophy of Culture, Hermeneutics, Continental Philosophy, Aesthetics, and Poststructuralist Thought, in particular that of Michel Foucault. He currently specializes in Applied Ethics, Ideology Critique, Development Ethics, and particularly in Environmental Ethics and Climate Change Ethics.  ​​