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Ethical Pitfalls of Data Digging in Journalism
Unformatted Document Text:  Ethical Pitfalls of Data Digging Orleans federal court. The data in the timeline above the chart came from the CPSC. Important: The timeline does not include data for the month of January in any of the years represented. That’s because some homeowners didn’t know exactly when their drywall problems began, and the CPSC placed all such reports in January of the given year, which would incorrectly skew the January numbers. See the methodology behind this News Application (ProPublica) . And: The CBS News Investigative Unit provided research for this database. Correction (March 25, 2011): This news application originally included lists of contractors, manufacturers, distributors, importers and builders involved in lawsuits over tainted drywall. A software bug caused those lists to overstate the number of addresses associated with each company. The erroneous lists, and references to them, have been removed. The other significant area of concern involves the impact on individuals who make up larger data sets. Willis points out that no newspaper would just publish a phone book, but it’s not just media companies that have access to publishing online. Because the barriers to publishing are so low, people just think: 'We got this, let’s publish this. And that can get you into trouble.' (Willis) For Willis, asking questions about whether the database contains personally identifiable information, what was the origin of the data and what might the agenda of the creator are all important. But equally important is the question: What purpose 17

Authors: Leach, Jan. and Gilbert, Jeremy.
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Ethical Pitfalls of Data Digging
Orleans federal court. The data in the timeline above the chart came from 
the CPSC. Important: The timeline does not include data for the month of 
January in any of the years represented. That’s because some homeowners 
didn’t know exactly when their drywall problems began, and the CPSC 
placed all such reports in January of the given year, which would incorrectly 
skew the January numbers. See the methodology behind this News 
Application
 (ProPublica)
.
     And:
 
The CBS News Investigative Unit provided research for this database.
Correction (March 25, 2011): This news application originally included lists 
of contractors, manufacturers, distributors, importers and builders involved 
in lawsuits over tainted drywall. A software bug caused those lists to 
overstate the number of addresses associated with each company. The 
erroneous lists, and references to them, have been removed.  
The other significant area of concern involves the impact on individuals who 
make up larger data sets. Willis points out that no newspaper would just publish a 
phone book, but it’s not just media companies that have access to publishing online. 
Because the barriers to publishing are so low, people just think: 'We got this, let’s 
publish this. And that can get you into trouble.' (Willis)
 
For Willis, asking questions about whether the database contains personally 
identifiable information, what was the origin of the data and what might the agenda 
of the creator are all important. But equally important is the question: What purpose 
17


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