Trust and Transparency

Using Data Responsibly to Tackle a Global Emergency

Share this post:

IBM is a company committed to the responsible stewardship of data and technology – at all times and in all circumstances, including today’s global pandemic. Our Principles of Trust and Transparency reflect the longstanding values that have guided generations of IBMers in the development and deployment of new technologies and services to deliver innovation that matters to the world.

Since the beginning of this emergency, IBM has been working with clients and governments to apply our technology and expertise in ways that can make a meaningful difference. From minimizing disruption through resiliency and adaptation, to accelerating scientific discovery and rapidly delivering trusted information into the hands of citizens, we are laser-focused on modeling the promise of good tech when society needs it most.

After all, our principles are only as good as our willingness to put them into practice.

Infusing Ethical Thinking to Drive Accountability

Long before COVID-19, we knew that leading with our values would be critical for distinguishing IBM as a global leader in trusted good tech business practices. We also recognized that operationalizing those values would require a formal, internal process to vet projects and business opportunities based on well-defined guidance around ethical, privacy, and security considerations. As that guidance becomes increasingly dependent on unique ethical considerations posed by technologies like AI, we established our internal AI Ethics Board and a business-wide network of “focals,” trusted IBM AI experts, to provide a centralized mechanism for reviewing opportunities that pose more difficult questions. The Board is comprised of a cross-disciplinary team of IBMers, co-chaired by me, and reports to a committee of IBM senior leaders.

The AI Ethics Board infuses our principles and ethical thinking into our business decision-making. It provides centralized governance and accountability while still being flexible enough to support decentralized initiatives across IBM’s massive global reach. It provides two-way engagement, promotes best practices, conducts internal education, and leads our participation with stakeholder groups worldwide. It is one mechanism by which IBM holds our company and all IBMers accountable to our values.

Applying Value-Based Guardrails to Promote Trust in Today’s COVID-19 Response Technologies

Importantly, the board does not prejudge every possible situation or business opportunity. Instead, it provides a framework to rapidly evaluate each use case and make decisions guided by our principles and a careful consideration of how our technology will be used and by whom. As the Board has looked at technologies to address the COVID-19 pandemic in recent months that we hadn’t considered previously – such as temperature checking, contact tracing, and technologies to assist in social distancing – I am comforted to have reaffirmed that our long-standing Trust and Transparency principles have indeed provided effective guardrails as today, maybe more than ever, we need to promote trust in technology. Without trust, the public will never embrace technologies that can help address this pandemic.

I highlight below six key guardrails, found within our Trust & Transparency Principles, that have been particularly helpful for our board, and the business, to ensure we are responsible stewards of our COVID-19 technologies and engagements worldwide.

Trust & Transparency Principles

Key Guardrails for COVID-19 Technologies

Technology Must be Transparent and Explainable
  • Requiring data transparency around what is collected, how it will be used and stored, and who has access to it.
Data and Insights Belong to their Owner
  • Tightly restricting the specific purpose for which data can and cannot be used to prevent it from being repurposed.
  • Collecting only the minimum amount of data necessary and deleting data when no longer needed.
  • Designing and deploying solutions with privacy and security built-in.
Purpose of Technology is to Augment Human Intelligence
  • Requiring humans-in-the-loop for any decision-making process that would have legal impacts on an individual.
  • Ensuring all applications of IBM technology are lawful, fair, inclusive, and non-discriminatory.


Maintaining Adaptability to Promote Public Health while Protecting Privacy

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve, the questions around how to best promote public health while protecting privacy will need to be continuously re-assessed, just as the science of the disease spread and its control is increasing and evolving.

IBM believes strongly in the value of opt-in measures to protect privacy and ensure trust. We believe governments and enterprises should strive to prioritize the voluntary nature of any collection and use of personal data in public health efforts. Where mandatory contact tracing systems are proposed, any IBM involvement in those projects would be carefully evaluated by the AI Ethics Board, on a case-by-case basis, to ensure consistency with our overarching principles and values. For example, requiring the use of a contact tracing app in the workplace before permitting employees to return could help provide returning employees with a healthy and safe workplace while preserving privacy, provided it’s designed and deployed with the right guardrails in place. Adaptability is key to working our way through this unprecedented emergency, and the flexibility afforded by the Board’s governance mechanism will allow IBM to continue responding in a timely and effective manner to changes on the ground.

Looking ahead to other possible technology applications that may be required to beat back this virus, preserving society’s trust in technology is critical. The world can count on IBM, guided by our AI Ethics Board, to continue bringing the best of our technology and expertise into the fight. And we will do so while adhering firmly to our long-standing principles and belief in the importance of good tech that have earned us the trust of society and our clients for more than a century.


Christina Montgomery, Chief Privacy Officer, IBM Corporation

More Trust and Transparency stories

IBM Statement on the Digital Services Act and Digital Markets Act

IBM’s statement on the European Commission’s Digital Services Act: “IBM welcomes the European Commission’s proposal for a Digital Services Act. We are pleased the Commission adopted a ‘precision regulation approach’ that is focused clearly on tackling illegal content online, something IBM has long called for. We believe this proposal can build greater trust in technology and […]

Continue reading

The future of cross-border data flows must include high standards of protection

  The data security debate While the pandemic has forced individuals, companies and governments to adapt to a world that is more virtual than ever before, increased internet access and data flows were fueling the digital transformation long before the present crisis. Meanwhile, concerns from governments about the safety, security, and use of data are increasing — underscoring the urgent need […]

Continue reading

301 Tariff Relief: Immediate Actions to Support American Advanced Manufacturing

Earlier this month, IBM CEO Arvind Krishna sent a letter to President-Elect Biden committing our company to support the Administration in tackling the monumental challenges facing the United States.  Arvind noted that throughout its history, IBM has supported the visions of presidents in times of crisis and profound change. One of the most pressing challenges […]

Continue reading