The tech decisions we’re making now have immense ethical implications

  • Posted on April 2, 2020
  • Estimated reading time 4 minutes
The tech decisions we re making now

The world is transforming before our eyes, in ways that we can only begin to predict. Like most of you, I’m concerned about our global and national economies, local businesses, our neighbors around the world, and loved ones. And hopefully, like most of you, I’m inspired by news of heroism and community, and I’m thankful for the wonderful people in my life. I’m also proud to be working for Avanade, which has been doing great work during this global crisis, including helping clients get massive remote workforces up and running smoothly, supporting manufacturing companies in the UK producing much-needed ventilators, and donating computers to families in need to help them keep in touch with work and school.

Those of us involved in digital technology may not be putting our lives at risk every day like our heroes on the front lines of pandemic response, but many of us are playing a crucial role in supporting those efforts. And we can show a great deal of leadership as the whole world is suddenly relying more on digital technology to connect with coworkers, businesses, friends, family, and government agencies. We have to keep digital ethics at the forefront of our conversations right now, because the way we’re currently designing, developing, deploying, and interacting with technology will mean long-lasting change for the world as we know it; it’s up to us to make sure that change is ultimately for the better.

With that in mind, below are six critical ethical considerations we need to address.

Taking precautions with untested business and personal apps. 
To accommodate new ways of working and living, your colleagues have been downloading all kinds of new apps – including video conferencing, distance learning tools, health trackers, and yes, even online dating apps – to their home computers and mobile devices. The already blurry lines between personal and professional tech are completely disappearing, and new apps are introducing risk faster than your security, compliance, and privacy teams can vet them. So in the meantime, you can update controls and policies, and communicate expectations to make sure your employees keep your company, themselves, and their families safe. 

Expanding your definition of business continuity and resilience. 
By now, most of your companies have executed some form of business continuity plan, making sure its networks, systems, and processes remain operational. Also, by now, it should be clear that your business’ continuity relies on a broad ecosystem that includes suppliers, delivery partners, employees, and customers. And it’s not just about keeping them operational, but also checking in on their health and well-being. As you’re implementing continuity plans, check in with customers to see how you might better support them right now, consider how you’re enabling employees to take care of the institutions around them (local businesses, schools, non-profits, neighbors), and share solutions with your business partners; your organization’s eventual recovery will depend on each of these stakeholders. 

Protecting inclusion and diversity. 
As we’re all connecting more online now, we must be careful we’re not excluding certain populations of employees and customers from opportunity. There are fundamentals to consider, like whether your apps and sites are accessible for people with impairments, and whether your video technologies work for everyone regardless of gender and skin tone. But you can also demonstrate leadership with respect to cases unique to this situation, like making sure employees aren’t denied opportunities because of insufficient home internet access or jobs that cannot be done from home, updating your policies to support home workers with children, and amplifying the voices of employees who may be less-than-comfortable with video conferencing. 

Prioritizing privacy as a right. 
We are fortunate to have many technologies that can gather, process, and share personal information to help combat the spread of Covid-19. But these same capabilities might eventually allow employers, service providers, and governments to violate individual’s privacy. There are many ways to show leadership to protect privacy right now,  whether you’re operating internal systems or building tech products for customers. You may have to change your privacy policies and employee training. For example, even seemingly innocuous internal apps, such as those that allow employees to see into each others’ homes, can lead to teammates witnessing very embarrassing personal situation as well as more serious concerns about what data these apps are collecting and storing. Get your compliance, privacy, and ethics teams together to review any new tech decisions while you can.

Promoting factual information.
Misinformation and distrust of authorities were already growing problems before the pandemic hit, and now they bring greater risk as threats to health and safety. Thankfully, the World Health Organization is working with tech companies like Facebook, Twitter, Tencent, Pinterest and TikTok to block dangerous content. You can also do your part to help protect employees and customers by highlighting information from trusted authoritative sources around the world and making sure misinformation doesn’t spread through your company’s own internal and external communication channels. 

Take stock of how your organization can pitch in. 
While we’re all positioning our organizations to succeed in the current climate and for our future recovery, we can also look for ways to invest time and energy in alleviating the pain around us.  For example manufacturing firms have shifted to make ventilators, apparel companies are making hospital gowns and masks, and firms involved in 3D printing are producing health and safety equipment. In the tech sector, dozens of companies have announced new products and offerings to help organizations get though their current challenges, startups around the world are shifting their focus to help the cause. 

Whatever your industry, your company likely has unique skills to support the ecosystem around it, even if it’s at the local level. Check out this great example of local support in Rochester, Minnesota (USA); a public/private partnership to prevent food shortages in Baltimore, Maryland (USA), and entertainment and hospitality firms “loaning” employees to other in-need companies in China.  

There may very well be other issues for you to keep in mind, depending on your organization, industry, and region. Please share any additional ideas you have, as the more we talk about these ethical concerns, the more likely we are to improve decisions and behaviors for the entire industry.

And as always, if you’re looking for a more in-depth discussion or help on any of these topics, you can contact us or post a comment below. 

Learn how Avanade can help you take action with your ethics journey, including advice on ethics frameworks and governance models.

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