The ethics of digital: round up

July 20, 2014

What’s the right way to behave online?

If digital behaviour is different from real world behaviour what are the new rules?

The big tech giants that dominate our lives are running around trying to find answers. When they get it wrong, it doesn’t look good.

In June Google hired an ethics adviser Luciano Floridi. He argued in the Guardian for some “bold ideas”:

Most experts agree that current European data protection law is outdated. I see it as the expression of a time when there was a clear divide between online and offline. Today, that divide is being bridged in favour of the “onlife”, a mixture of analogue and digital, physical and virtual experiences, like driving a car following the instructions of a navigator.

The car metaphor is a dead giveaway. A driverless car? Like one of Google’s?

In July Google’s approach to implementing the EU’s Right to be Forgotten ruling became headline news courtesy of the BBC’s Robert Peston. The most interesting piece I read about this (apart from Robert’s own), was Andrew Orlovski’s new angle in The Register (“Google de-listing of BBC article ‘broke UK and Euro public interest laws'”)

Then there’s Facebook’s “Mood Manipulation” experiment. There was a lot of noise about this, but Jaron Lanier in the New York Times offered some humanity and humility.

All of us engaged in research over networks must commit to finding a way to modernize the process of informed consent.  Instead of lowering our standards to the level of unread click-through agreements, let’s raise the standards for everyone.

Duncan J Watts in “Lessons Learned from the Facebook study” said that the experiment may not have been as bad as the noise suggested but:

What we need is an ethics-review process for human-subject research designed explicitly for web-based research…

(Credit to @dianecoyle1859 for this link)

David Banks has some intelligent thoughts and practical suggestions on the ethics of wearable technology. I’d disagree with his suggestion that police forces should be banned from using Google Glass. Law enforcement might be the only place Google Glass serves a useful purpose, rather than just being an annoyance.

I couldn’t write this without mentioning Model View Culture, the online magazine set up by @Shanley. It’s a must read: a combative critique of the values, practices and morality of Silicon Valley. I don’t agree with all of it, but it’s an essential antidote to the complacency and lack of self awareness of too much of the tech scene.

The technology giants are relatively young (even “immature”? ). When you’re an adolescent you haven’t worked out the right thing to do yet. The BBC, like many other mainstream media organisations, has been trying to answer these questions for a lot longer. David Jordan, Director of BBC Values and Standards (Disclaimer: I use to work in that team), recently outlined the BBC’s guidance on removing content online (“Should the BBC unpublish any of its content online?”). It’s rational, nuanced, sensible and, mature.

Bold ideas? I’d rather have some old ones.

 

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