As technology and software companies worldwide become more powerful and influential in economics, international relations, and everyday life, we think it is worth asking, what are ethical practices in business technology? How do we define ethics in the tech sector? What issues need increased awareness? The recent Facebook debacle concerning promoting harmful content and abuse of personal information on their website prompts young developers to search for better ways for technology companies to conduct business. Some of the most prominent moral issues facing the tech sector include (but are not limited to):
Misuse of personal data
One of the most prominent ethical dilemmas in the tech sector is how companies deal with users’ personal information to increase profits and time spent on their websites. Most social media and photo/video sharing websites are free to use because they profit from selling users’ personal information to advertising companies. Furthermore, Facebook came under fire recently when it was revealed that they were promoting targeted content to retain users’ attention by promoting certain socio-economic and geopolitical issues.
There are still no universal guidelines for this issue, so large companies must take it upon themselves to create industry-wide standards. Large companies have made some efforts to thwart this issue. Still, the public remains skeptical of how far they’ll go to ensure responsibility and protect users’ information and interests in terms of mental and physical safety.
One of the most significant and lasting effects of the 2016 and 2020 U.S. Presidential Elections is the spread of misinformation on major social media sights and news outlets. Biased perpetrators flooded these sites with lies and deceit hoping that it would sway public opinion one way or another. Since then, social media magnates such as Facebook and Twitter have stepped up their efforts to combat misinformation by flagging information that has been fact-checked and deemed inaccurate.
This problem is not going away and can have dastardly short-term and long-term consequences. Even though false claims are flagged, that doesn’t stop influential public figures from sharing their opinions, whether they are accurate or not. Then those opinions are spread to every corner of the Earth so long as people have public access to it. It is up to these companies who host the sites where misinformation is spread to take practical measures to ensure the unbiased and impartial transparency of information.
Lack of accountability
Tech companies of all sizes work with third-party contractors, from data storage to payment methods. This creates a grey area of accountability when a crisis emerges. Is it the contractor’s fault if the problems arise in their sector? Or is it up to the host company to ensure operations are running smoothly on all fronts? Host companies can often shift and share the blame when these situations happen. Still, the truth is that it is the responsibility of all parties involved to work with transparency and ultimately and to assume responsibility for any wrongdoings that occur under their watch.
There has been an influx of moral dilemmas arising from the progress and potential artificial intelligence in business, medicine, and governance alike. For decades now, there has been a deep concern amongst workers of all sectors of the economy that AI and automation will take jobs away from real people trying to support their families. We’ve seen this happen over decades, arguably centuries, as technology and robotics have slashed labor forces down to the bare essentials required to operate certain technologies. Contact tracing for infectious diseases has led to discussion over the invasion of privacy and individual freedoms in medicine. In the military and law enforcement, facial recognition systems have immense potential to enflame racial biases in policing and the justice system. These are all reasonable concerns, and leading experts can’t truly predict the full scope of what the future will bring or what problems will arise on a broader sociological level.
Respect for employees and customers
Tech companies have attained great power in fiscal and social terms, but they are nothing without their employees and community of users. These peoples’ interests and safety should become and forever remain the top priorities of leading companies.
Moral use of data
Data is undoubtedly one of the most powerful tools at any business’s disposal. However, the abuse and retraction of data through corrupt means remains a prominent issue for corporations and users alike. There must be some limitations on how data is found and used to ensure ethical business practices and retain respect for individual privacy.
Culture of responsibility
Humans are imperfect creatures. We are inevitably prone to make mistakes sooner or later. When a mistake is made it is important to be forthright and honest about what happened and what can be done to solve it. Some mistakes arise from intentional actions. In this case, it is imperative that companies and the tech community as a whole band together to hold those responsible accountable and ensure that efforts like these never arise again.
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