I marvelled at the passion demonstrated by the London Extinction Rebellion activists while I attempted to make my way to the Digital Agenda Power & Responsibility Summit at the British Library on 9 October.
During the Summit itself – while listening to presentations delivered by eminent speakers including Matt Warman MP, Minister for Digital and Broadband, at DCMS; Sana Khareghani, Head of UK Government Office for AI; Russell Haworth, CEO, Nominet; Cheryl Stevens MBE, Deputy Director for Trust & Identity at DWP; Jacqueline de Rojas CBE, President, techUK; and Caroline Criado Perez OBE, award winning author of Invisible Woman and activist, and chaired by Rachel Neaman, strategy director – it struck me that consumer disillusionment with unethical applications of technology could lead to its own type of activism in the form of product and service boycotts.
Indeed, the term activism came up more than once during the Summit. And this isn’t such a far-fetched idea when you consider how much attention is being paid to issues like:
I found the conference to be something of a clarion call. The industry needs to clean up its digital ethics act or suffer even more damage to its brand and subsequently, face more regulation, and perhaps even experience consumer activism.
Although it’s a given that organizations should conduct business ethically, fast technological advancements provide additional compelling reasons to re-examine this aspect of their businesses. Those that do re-align their ethics to the changing tech landscape can realize multiple business benefits:
Corporations are starting to take action to better align their overall governance and ethics to the changing world demands. For example, Santander Bank recently took up paid ads in the New York Times to highlight its commitment to being a top employer by measures such as having more women in leadership, supporting the green economy, and more. Adding an ethical digital strategy would extend this kind of rebranding and is a must to restore trust in technology.
Every company today must have an evolving ethical digital strategy in order to restore trust among their consumers. Lofty and hollow corporate social responsibility statements won’t work. To change consumer sentiment, you need to put solid, trust-instilling policies into practice.
As a starter, use the simple checklist that we have provided to self-score how your company currently ranks in numerous areas: 1 = lowest, and 5 = highest. Then, look at what you can do to raise your score.
Action to take to increase your score
|Customer data stewardship
|Policy and practices that respect customer data privacy, provide transparency in how the data is used, and seek permission for sharing information with third parties at granular levels
|Diversity in tech teams and tech leadership
|Policy and practices to provide an HR framework that ensures equal opportunities for all, e.g., equal pay for women, diversity in senior tech management, and employment conditions that are fit for 21st century
|Going green in tech product manufacture, and IT infrastructure and services
|Looking for green alternatives in product manufacturing processes, green energy sources to power data centres, and optimization of power consumption by technology as a whole
|Optimizing office energy use, staff commute, and business travel, e.g., increased use of shared transport and remote meetings
|Fair use of AI
|Setting and practicing standards for fair applications of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and explainability, e.g., eliminating bias in algorithms, sample size and scope, and de-risking AI through tests and controls
|Employee tech enablement and good working practices
|Enabling employees through the use of technology tools, e.g., software robots and personal task automation to increase productivity and achieve better work-life balance and quality of work.
Rapid advances in technology everyday take us further into the realm of unknown consequences and impacts of innovation. We want to innovate, but not at any cost. It is incumbent upon all of us, especially tech leaders, to set the direction of travel away from undesired outcomes.