The technology industry has had a tough couple of years. While there is no doubt that tech has helped us all become more productive and efficient, and provided us with more ways to keep in touch, that hasn’t stopped an increasing sense of distrust when it comes to tech-based companies.
As the Guardian recently discussed, regulation has not kept up with technology. But the Cambridge Analytica and Facebook data scandal has raised new questions about the role of ethical considerations with regards to technology companies and the programmers building the devices.
But at what stage should ethics come into play?
While engineers traditionally focus on creating the best code to get a computer to complete a task, without reflecting on broader social context, the Guardian suggests that a moral code needs to start from the bottom. With digital technology being so widely used, coders writing programs need to anticipate the needs of others, their vulnerabilities, and circumstances.
While, no doubt, a complex and significant task, this could perhaps help to ensure better algorithms from the offset.
For instance, Harvard professor Latanya Sweeney produced research about Google searches for African-American names being more likely to generate adverts for companies offering background checks when compared to searches for white-sounding names.
Algorithms on Facebook, and the lack of systems to conduct checks and balances, has seen people targeted with false adverts. It is for this reason that the UK consumer advice and money-saving expert, Martin Lewis, is now suing Facebook after fake adverts continued to use his name and face to lure people into costly scams.
But ethics isn’t just the responsibility of coders. There are lots of problems in the world of digital tech, and it will require everyone to make an effort to solve and improve these issues. Just as lawyers and doctors owe their highest duty to the court and their patients, the Guardian believes a similar framework can pave the way for technology professionals to dictate the necessary conditions to do their jobs well.
Digital technology builders need to be encouraged, and given the support and space, to be able to work respectfully, focusing on the needs of users.
While there is the case for regulation to catch up, it is not the total answer. Perhaps one of the best solutions would be ethical training, given to employees throughout all levels of technology companies. This could include providing users with more information about their data and involving and considering a greater cohort of users in the development and beta testing.
Automation might help speed up processes and reduce costs, but human oversight will still be required in order to improve the digital environment. Perhaps, we’ll move away from the desire to move quickly and cause disruption, and instead enter into a technology culture focused on creating and building tech that is respectful and empowers people.