People, machines, data, and processes are becoming increasingly interlinked, with technological advances transforming our society and posing new ethical challenges. Digital ethics provides us with a framework for responsibly handling data, algorithms and artificial intelligence.
Our approach to corporate digital responsibility
Having made it our mission to develop new digital technologies responsibly, we identify at an early stage any ethical issues that may arise from either using this technology or from applying algorithm-driven and data-based business models.
Established in 2021, our new Digital Ethics Advisory Panel (DEAP) focuses on complex ethical issues surrounding digital technologies. Ensuring that our digital business model follows a holistic, ethical approach, its efforts complement the work of our Ethics Advisory Panel for Science and Technology (MEAP). Launched in 2010, the MEAP provides guidance on ethical issues pertaining to our business activities and research.
Roles and responsibilities
The DEAP deals with all ethical issues arising from our digital businesses, especially digital health. It plays a pivotal role in ensuring that we develop digital innovations responsibly and address potential digital ethics questions that could result from the use of these digital technologies. Making recommendations on our actions as a company, the panel consists of external U.S. and European science and industry experts from the following fields: digital ethics, law, Big Data technologies, digital health, medicine, and data governance. Furthermore, if necessary, we draw on bioethics experts as well as representatives from patient organizations. As with the MEAP, the DEAP is appointed by the Executive Board. All employees may submit topics for the panel to discuss. The minutes from DEAP meetings as well as their recommendations can be accessed on our intranet. The panel held four meetings in 2021. One DEAP session focused on our company’s role and responsibility in terms of how (patient) data is collected and handled by customers who utilize our digital products and services.
Our commitment: Guidelines and standards
We aim to position ourselves as the “digital ethics company”, meeting rigorous ethical standards in critical areas such as health data handling.
In 2021, we worked with the DEAP and other partners from academia and science to draft our Code of Digital Ethics CoDE, a document that governs our approach to the ethical management of data and algorithms. The CoDE serves as a guideline for our digital business models, a tool for analyzing ethical challenges, and a basis for practical DEAP guidance. In March 2021, the Executive Board decided to classify the CoDE as a charter; this is our company’s highest category for quality control documents and one that also includes our Code of Conduct and our company values. As such, the CoDE applies to all employees, is publicly accessible, and will become part of the employee training curricula.
The CoDE consists of five core principles: autonomy, justice, beneficence, non-maleficence, and transparency. These principles in turn provide a clear structure for assessing ethical issues and moreover guide our business sectors and individual employees through sensitive situations that are not (yet) covered by laws or other types of regulations. The CoDE not only serves as the basis for assessing the ethical risks posed by existing activities, but also enables us to evaluate the ethical aspects of newly emerging digital solutions. We are currently rolling out the code in the first batch of areas.
In December 2021, the German Association for the Digital Economy (BVDW) and the Bavarian company Bayern Innovative presented us with the Corporate Digital Responsibility Award in recognition of our Code of Digital Ethics. We took first place in the “New Business Models” category.
Strategic partnership for innovative therapeutic solutions
Since 2021, the DEAP has also been addressing questions arising from Syntropy, a digital joint venture between Palantir Technologies and our company. This partnership aims to leverage data to advance the discovery of medicines to treat cancer and other diseases. Syntropy enables us to collect data, collaborate and develop new discoveries in a safe, trust-based environment while also ensuring that the institutions that provide the data retain ownership of it. This partnership will facilitate new types of collaboration within the global scientific community in order to drive innovation in cancer research.