Freedombone Blog

Freedom in the Cloud

The ethical technology of 2019

I'm reading this article and agree with the overall aim of trying to produce more ethical technology. I've you are a Free Software person then you've always been interested in ethics.

But there's lots of cringe-inducing things in the article, especially when they describe Mozilla.

"When building a product, designers should make the default settings the ones that will be best for users. Firefox is a good example. After completing more usability tests, the browser will start blocking third-party trackers, which collect your data as you surf the internet, by default."

Well that's great, but also by default Firefox collects data about exactly how you use the browser as you surf the internet and sends it back to Mozilla. You're not informed about that at all. That data could easily be used to create tracking fingerprints, and Mozilla Corporation's business relationships with search engines - particularly Google - are sufficiently opaque that it's an easy supposition to make that a scandal could be brewing.

Will sending software engineers on ethics courses fix the problems of the tech industry? No. But it would make the engineers more aware of bad ethics in business practices, and they'll be less happy while working.

Will having a "Trustable Technology Mark" certification improve things? Maybe, but probably not. The closest I can think of would be FSF's Respects Your Freedom certification so it might not be an entirely worthless exercise but much would depend on the details. FSF has the list of four freedoms which are a fairly concise criteria against which to check any given product, whereas "trustable technology" could be a lot harder to define.

Making users owners is the best advice from the article.

"make your users the owners of your platform–not venture capitalists, not shareholders"

This requires business models to change and for advertising to no longer be the primary revenue stream. Working against this though is the web 2.0 consensus, which concluded that nobody will pay for web services. The next billion internet users are not likely to have spare cash hanging around with which to invest in startups or pay for subscription services. They're going to be using low end smartphones and the margins will be wafer thin.

One possible way to go with ownership of technology is the Guifinet model, in which you have a foundation which sets some rules and perhaps runs crowdfunding campaigns, but the resulting network is owned and run by the users. When that's the case then the interests are aligned and you're not likely to see the kinds of large scale abuses that the tech silos currently impose.