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Friday, May 4, 2018

Will Tech Companies Ever Take Ethics Seriously?

Evan Selinger
www.medium.com
Originally published April 9, 2018

Here are two excerpts:

And let’s face it, tech companies are in a structural bind, because they simultaneously serve many masters who can have competing priorities: shareholders, regulators, and consumers. Indeed, while “conscientious capitalism” sounds nice, anyone who takes political economy seriously knows we should be wary of civics being conflated with keeping markets going and companies appealing to ethics as an end-run strategy to avoid robust regulation.

But what if there is reason — even if just a sliver of practical optimism — to be more hopeful? What if the responses to the Cambridge Analytica scandal have already set in motion a reckoning throughout the tech world that’s moving history to a tipping point? What would it take for tech companies to do some real soul searching and embrace Spider-Man’s maxim that great responsibility comes with great power?

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Responsibility has many dimensions. But as far as Hartzog is concerned — and the “values in design” literature supports this contention — the three key ideals that tech companies should be prioritizing are: promoting genuine trust (through greater transparency and less manipulation), respecting obscurity (the ability for people to be more selective when sharing personal information in public and semipublic spaces), and treating dignity as sacrosanct (by fostering genuine autonomy and not treating illusions of user control as the real deal). At the very least, embracing these goals means that companies will have to come up with better answers to two fundamental questions: What signals do their design choices send to users about how their products should be perceived and used? What socially significant consequences follow from their design choices lowering transaction costs and making it easier or harder to do things, such as communicate and be observed?

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