The past year has really opened people’s eyes to the way that big tech companies use their data to make enormous amounts of profit. While it is certainly true that these companies need to earn revenue and remain profitable in order to survive, but the fact of the matter is that the manner in which these companies use data to remain profitable is questionable at best and is in some instances downright unethical.
Hence, it has become more important than ever for people to start asking how we can remain ethical in an increasingly data driven world. Data is quickly becoming one of the most valuable resources in the world, mostly because of the fact that it can be used to advertise to the right people thus generating sales which is what makes this industry so profitable in the first place. Contrary to what a lot of people think, it is most certainly possible to remain ethical and protect the privacy of the people whose data is being collected and also earn a significant profit that would enable a company to remain viable for the long term. There are actually examples of this in the real world.
Salesforce, for example, recently received an enormous amount of praise because of the fact that they hired a Chief of Ethical and Humane Use. The purpose of this job is to create a strategy that would enable technology to be used in a manner that would not violate any codes of ethics. The CEO of Salesforce Marc Benioff has already become fairly well known for speaking out against companies that incorporate large scale data collection such as Facebook, positing that higher levels of government involvement and regulation is warranted after the laissez faire manner in which such companies have handled the data they possess.
Indeed, Benioff has gone so far as to compare Facebook to a cigarette. This stems from the fact that the social media platform is rather addictive, so much so that users often end up forgetting the potential harm that could be caused in an attempt to get the satisfaction that they receive from using the service. It should be noted that even Benioff has recommended using advertisement based on Facebook in conjunction with Salesforce services in order to boost your business, so it is very important to realize that while the message he is providing is certainly important, he is not exactly infallible himself.
One thing that people can learn from Benioff is the fact that we currently are unable to extinguish between artificial intelligence in the form of bots as well as other variants of the same kind of technology from real life human beings. This is mostly because of the fact that technology has rapidly become a lot more advanced than it used to be, thus making AI so good at mimicking human behavior that people often don’t realize they’re not talking to a human being.
Benioff suggests that bots and AI be designated as such. This is because of the fact that you should know who you are talking to so that you can adjust your own conversational patterns accordingly. This is an important part of ethics in the field of technology that simply hasn’t been touched yet because of the fact that it’s too new for the correct code of conduct to have been developed so far.
Demarcating Ethical And Unethical Technological Behavior is Difficult
The fact that Salesforce now has someone whose sole job is to ensure that the company is working in a manner that is completely above board and free of any ethical misdemeanors, the industry at large is still guilty of a lot of ethical violations and so far there aren’t many companies that are rising to the occasion the way that Salesforce has.
Google had a person named Tristan Harris working for them whose job designation was Design Ethicist. His main task was to ensure that all of the technology that was being developed would be completely in line with ethics so as to ensure that users don’t end up getting dealt a bad hand and having to deal with the consequences. He once pointed out during a tech talk that a small number of engineers, most of whom are male, have a disproportionate level of control over the billions of people that use the internet. His statement sheds light on a serious problem that occurs with tech companies, which is that they are often too homogenous to take into account the needs of marginalized groups of people.
If one were to look closely at the industry, specifically at giants such as Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook and the like, one would discover that this observation is pretty much true. The fact of the matter is that advertisers want the data that these companies possess, and since a company’s prerogative is to expand and earn as much money as possible it is natural that these companies will move to accept this easy money. Hence it becomes important to ask whether brands actually care about how this data is being used, and if they do how they can implement this concern.
What The Experts Say
The fact of the matter is that not all brands take part in unethical business practices involving user data. Indeed, a lot of them strive to preserve user privacy and security and are thoroughly transparent with how user data is used. That being said, the few brands that are misusing user data to make a quick profit do exist and they are making the world of tech a pretty hostile place for users in general. Consumers are also becoming a lot smarter, though. They are becoming increasingly aware of how brands use their data, and are quickly abandoning those brands that are unethical in their business practices. Hence, survival of the fittest will likely ensure that only the brands that operate ethically will survive the culling brought on by consumer awareness.
In light of this, a number of brands need to change the way they approach the collection and bartering of data. Getting user permission needs to become a priority. Brands need to ensure that no data exchanges hands without the users knowing full well that it is happening and giving their express permission for it to happen. Another aspect of this transaction that needs to change is the manner in which privacy is compromised. The identity of the users that have provided said data needs to be protected to the extent where it simply cannot be compromised. Facebook in particular is a culprit in this regard. The social network has been responsible for numerous security breaches and data leaks over the past year, and most of these scandals have been the result of a lack of attempts on Facebook’s part to protect the data that users have entrusted them with.
The established of ethical business practices will have to require a two pronged approach. The first of these two prongs involves the consumer. Consumers need to become more educated about their rights and they need to start asking more specific questions of companies that want access to their data. The fact of the matter is that a lot of companies out there evade questions or answer them in a way that exonerates them of any real repercussions without actually providing any legitimate information that would dispel any confusion that might exists. Hence, consumers need to start asking the right questions.
The second of these two prongs involves the companies that are paving the way for ethical business practices. These companies need to define a code of ethics within the context of artificial intelligence and data collection that other companies can follow. The algorithms that are used need to be completely fair, there should be absolutely no room for discrimination because this will result in a lot of lives being affected. One of the biggest problems with the tech industry is that the people working in it are so far removed from the real world that they end up forgetting the enormous impact that there work has the potential to have on the world. When a problem occurs they might not realize how badly they messed up because of the fact that the fallout from their errors would be too far removed for them to see what they have done.
Hence, any decisions that are made in the tech industry need to be evaluated thoroughly and need to be as reversible as possible. Efficiency needs to be optimized, but not at the result of the human experience. Also, success rates need to be contextualized. A 95% success rate in the fast food industry is brilliant. In the healthcare industry it could result in the loss of actual human lives. This is why these things should be taken into account when people are working in the field of technology. It is only through realizations such as this that the world of tech can become more ethical.