Spring 2023 - PHIL 270 D100

Data, Ethics and Society (3)

Class Number: 7184

Delivery Method: Remote


  • Course Times + Location:

    Jan 4 – Apr 11, 2023: Thu, 2:30–5:20 p.m.



Introduces students to the ethical, legal, and privacy issues surrounding the collection and use of big data and the implications of these for vulnerable populations. Students with credit for SDA 270 may not take this course for further credit.


[Note: this course is to be taught concurrently with SDA 270.]

This course will examine ethical questions that arise in the collection and use of data, including the following:

  • When should considerations of privacy constrain what data we gather, and how should we balance privacy against other competing values?
  • Sometimes algorithms incorporate biases or lead to discriminatory analyses, rather than offering objectivity.  What ethical responsibilities does this give us?
  • Are there ethical reasons to avoid gathering data about some things (for example, if the information might be used in harmful ways)?
  • What metrics should we use, and how can we navigate gaps between what it's feasible to measure and what it's important to know?  Do measures like quality-adjusted life years (QALYs) and gross domestic product (GDP) reflect what we should value in health policy and economic policy?

Course assignments will focus on helping students to analyze the arguments in course readings, to develop well-supported critiques of those arguments, and to defend those analyses in clearly written papers.



This course is required for the Social Data Analytics Minor, and will also be of special interest to Philosophy students. 


  • Two 4-5 page papers (30% each) 60%
  • Ethics Consultation Report 25%
  • Quality of Course Engagement (quality of written work in five, short, reading response exercises + quality of contributions to class discussion, including in break-out groups + (optionally) quality of in-class worksheets) 15%


Course delivery:  remote, synchronous.  All students must be available to participate in classes over Zoom during the scheduled class period.




This course will meet over Zoom during the scheduled class period.  Students will need a microphone and high-speed internet access that will allow them to view live video and contribute to discussions and class activities over audio.  A camera is optional.  Technical specifications for compatibility with Zoom are available here


All readings will be available on the course’s Canvas page.


Your personalized Course Material list, including digital and physical textbooks, are available through the SFU Bookstore website by simply entering your Computing ID at: shop.sfu.ca/course-materials/my-personalized-course-materials.

Department Undergraduate Notes:

Thinking of a Philosophy Major or Minor? The Concentration in Law and Philosophy? The Certificate in Ethics? The Philosophy and Methodology of Science Certificate?
Contact the PHIL Advisor at philcomm@sfu.ca   More details on our website: SFU Philosophy

New elective grade policy : P/CR/NC, pilot project in place from Spring 2021 to Summer 2023. List of exclusions for the new policy. Specifically for Philosophy: 

  • Students can use a P or CR to satisfy any requirement for a major, joint major, honours, or minor in Philosophy (with the exception of Honours tutorials).
  • Students can use a P or CR to satisfy any prerequisite requirement for any PHIL course.
  • Students can use a P (but not a CR) to satisfy any requirement for the Ethics Certificate, or the Philosophy and Methodology of Science Certificate.
  • Philosophy Majors and Honours students can use a P (but not a CR) to satisfy any WQB requirement.

Registrar Notes:


SFU’s Academic Integrity website http://www.sfu.ca/students/academicintegrity.html is filled with information on what is meant by academic dishonesty, where you can find resources to help with your studies and the consequences of cheating. Check out the site for more information and videos that help explain the issues in plain English.

Each student is responsible for his or her conduct as it affects the university community. Academic dishonesty, in whatever form, is ultimately destructive of the values of the university. Furthermore, it is unfair and discouraging to the majority of students who pursue their studies honestly. Scholarly integrity is required of all members of the university. http://www.sfu.ca/policies/gazette/student/s10-01.html