As smartphone apps and online software are increasingly more prevalent, so too are ethical concerns about how this technology is being used. From social media posts to online shopping or simply reading the news, we are spending enormous amounts of time in an online environment that can sometimes feel like the wild west. As companies compete to win our attention, here are some key ethical technology issues to be concerned with in 2022.
These days, we rely on technology more than ever in our daily lives. We have become reliant on the convenience it provides, and as a result, there is growing concern about personal data privacy in discussions of ethical technology applications. It’s an issue that has drawn the attention of governments worldwide, resulting in regulation efforts regarding privacy rights, the flow of data, and who should have access to it.
The dangers associated with data privacy have to do with the inevitable fact that certain unethical players can and will use, abuse and manipulate data for their own benefit or profit. This has potentially dangerous implications for everyone, but the dangers are more acute for those among us who are particularly vulnerable. With our digital lives more connected than ever, data privacy impacts financial and property rights, identity theft, and human dignity.
Somewhat related to data privacy concerns, data misuse has to do with how big tech companies use the massive amounts of personal data they collect from us through regular daily use of their products. These can be things as simple as our names, telephone numbers, email addresses, and physical locations. Collectively, these data points allow companies to build profiles and better understand our daily habits and buying preferences.
Simply put, personal data is now viewed as a valuable commodity that can be bought and sold for profit. As we all know, most companies will do anything they are legally allowed to do if it means more profits. This is where data misuse comes into play, as there is debate about how much personal data companies should be allowed to capture as well as how and when they should be allowed to share or sell it.
Misinformation in Digital Publishing
One of the unique benefits of the internet is the ability for anyone to have a voice and spread it on a global platform. Advanced technological tools have turbocharged the ubiquity of news and information from all sources, which can sometimes be challenging to distinguish verified data from biased or manipulated messaging. As a result, there is ongoing ethical debate about what can be done to address misinformation in online content.
This is a tricky issue, as discussions of quickly addressing misinformation lead to the idea of content moderation and free speech. Some will argue that governments and technology companies should do more to regulate digital publishing, especially regarding suppressing dangerous hate speech. This will likely be a significant topic in discussions of ethical technology for 2022.
In simple terms, addictive design refers to products, services, or experiences that are designed to keep users coming back for more. We see this in casinos, where there are generally no windows or clocks on the walls. This makes it difficult for game players to distinguish day from night, which keeps them spending money for more extended periods. Addictive design is used in many technology products and services, especially smartphone apps.
One example is push notifications, which send users a visual and/or audible alert that makes them feel compelled to respond. Another is the endless pursuit of “likes” for social media posts. The concern is that these apps can be so addictive that they have a detrimental effect on human health. It’s a particular concern for children, as they may not be as sensitive to the early signs of looming health issues.
Also referred to as “dark patterns,” deceptive design employs tricks and techniques in the user interface that deceive people into doing things that may not be in their best interest. One example would be an app or website that makes it very difficult for users to leave once they have entered it. Another is designing an app in such a way that makes it very difficult for users to opt-out of something.
Sometimes, deceptive design can be as simple as the language or terminology that is presented to users. For instance, users of social media apps are often given permission options that govern what they will allow the app to do. Knowing this, social media companies may use words like “personalized” or “activity” instead of terms like “targeting” or “tracking.” As a result, users may not realize what they’re giving the app permission to do.
Social and Political Instability
Online platforms have displayed breathtaking prowess in amplifying and spreading information to vast numbers of people in very little time. While this can be a very positive tool when applied correctly, it can also be dangerous in the wrong hands. In recent years, we have seen many instances of technology being employed to foment social division and political instability.
While some of this is simply the result of poor personal judgment, it is also clear that there are unethical players who are willfully using technology to promote social and political unrest. This is often carried out via social media platforms and campaigns, driven by a group’s desire to advance a certain agenda. We have also seen authoritarian regimes oppress populations by limiting their access to online information.
These are some of the key ethical issues surrounding the creation and use of technology in 2022. The technology companies that create new products and services have numerous concerns, as do the people who use them and the governments that regulate them. Contact Edafio Technology Partners to help navigate this complex landscape and ensure ethical practice for this year and beyond.