11 Jun 2021

Why Your Business Needs Ethical Tech

Tristan Harris speaking at the 2017 TED Conference

Even if your business doesn’t revolve around tech, how you use it in any aspect of your company has become increasingly pivotal to address. Ethical tech is all about considering the societal impacts of your tech and putting in mitigating measures to ensure it is not negatively impacting society.

By now we are all well aware of the presence of technology and social media in our lives, from smart plugs and Amazon Alexa to the hours we spend scrolling on Instagram.

We like to believe that we control the tech we use.

But now, with monetisation, targeted ads and collection of our data, our own control is just a façade. This will be especially obvious to you if you have watched the ground-breaking Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma.

Companies are now starting to consider whether their own innovation is helping to solve today’s ethical issues within tech, or just contributing to them.

The Center for Humane Technology (CHT), founded by Tristan Harris, is one organisation tackling this. Since 2013, Harris has been on an ever-evolving mission to “reimagine our digital infrastructure” and create a technological landscape that supports “well-being, democracy, and shared information environment”.

CHT was founded in 2018 by Harris, Aza Raskin and Randima Fernando off the back of the success of Harris’ Time Well Spent movement, which brought awareness to the “digital attention crisis” and how initiatives at Google, Apple and Facebook are designed to “hijack our minds” through smartphones.

This theory inspired change within social media conglomerates. For example, YouTube, introduced a “time watched” metric and “take a break” notification, while Instagram introduced their “you’re all caught up” checkmark in a bid to curb incessant scrolling and improve wellbeing.

Startup, Entrepreneur, Venture Capital, Ethical Tech , The Social Dilemma

Image from The Social Dilemma, via Netflix.

Most notably, Apple introduced app limits in 2018 to help users control their screen time. Whilst tech giants have only recently shown public self-awareness towards the ethics behind their products and services, it’s now vitally important that new startups and already existing businesses carry on the trend.

A recent study by Deloitte in 2020 found that just 35% of respondents said that their organization’s leaders spend enough time considering and “communicating the impact of digital initiatives on society”.

Deloitte states “ethical tech is a shared responsibility that should engage all functions and be championed at the top”.

Whether it means creating a guiding framework that addresses ethical tech or employing someone into an ethicist position, it is possible for all tech companies to take steps towards being more humane in digital practice.

According to Deloitte, with this ethical awareness comes an ability to stay ahead of future ethical technology challenges as it has been made a priority from the outset.

Can your business risk ignoring ethics against the backdrop of a growing societal consciousness over tech and its impacts?

Header Image: Tristan Harris speaks at TED2017 – The Future You, April 24-28, 2017, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Marla Aufmuth / TED, via Flickr.

Ethical Tech
Tristan Harris