Tags: ethics

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Build a Better Monster: Morality, Machine Learning, and Mass Surveillance

So what happens when these tools for maximizing clicks and engagement creep into the political sphere?

This is a delicate question! If you concede that they work just as well for politics as for commerce, you’re inviting government oversight. If you claim they don’t work well at all, you’re telling advertisers they’re wasting their money.

Facebook and Google have tied themselves into pretzels over this.

Digital Assistants, Facebook Quizzes, And Fake News! You Won’t Believe What Happens Next | Laura Kalbag

A great presentation from Laura on how tracking scripts are killing the web. We can point our fingers at advertising companies to blame for this, but it’s still developers like us who put those scripts onto websites.

We need to ask ourselves these questions about what we build. Because we are the gatekeepers of what we create. We don’t have to add tracking to everything, it’s already gotten out of our control.

Design Ethics in Practice – The Interconnected

Excellent and practical advice for before, during, and after research sessions and usability tests.

Let’s Make the World We Want To Live In | Big Medium

Josh gives a thorough roundup of the Interaction ‘17 event he co-chaired.

“I think I’ve distilled what this conference is all about,” Jeremy Keith quipped to me during one of the breaks. “It’s about how we’ll save the world through some nightmarish combination of virtual reality, chatbots, and self-driving cars.”

Trump: A Resister’s Guide | Harper’s Magazine - Part 11

You, the software engineers and leaders of technology companies, face an enormous responsibility. You know better than anyone how best to protect the millions who have entrusted you with their data, and your knowledge gives you real power as civic actors. If you want to transform the world for the better, here is your moment. Inquire about how a platform will be used. Encrypt as much as you can. Oppose the type of data analysis that predicts people’s orientation, religion, and political preferences if they did not willingly offer that information.

Radical Technologies: The Design of Everyday Life, now available for pre-order | Adam Greenfield’s Speedbird

Adam Greenfield’s new book is almost here at last, and it sounds like it has pivoted into quite an interesting beast.

Rogue One: an ‘Engineering Ethics’ Story — SciFi Policy

This article examines what I thought was the most interesting aspect of Rogue One—the ethical implications for technologists.

Don’t dismiss this essay just because it’s about a Hollywood blockbuster. Given the current political situation, this is deeply relevant.

Addicted to Your iPhone? You’re Not Alone - The Atlantic

The dreadful headline makes this sound like another pearl-clutching moral panic, but there’s some good stuff in this somewhat hagiographic profile.

Harris is developing a code of conduct—the Hippocratic oath for software designers—and a playbook of best practices that can guide start-ups and corporations toward products that “treat people with respect.” Having companies rethink the metrics by which they measure success would be a start.

The 1989 CBC Massey Lectures, “The Real World of Technology” - Home | Ideas with Paul Kennedy | CBC Radio

I’m about to start reading Ursula M. Franklin’s The Real World of Technology based on Mandy’s recommendation. The audio files from original series of lectures on which the book is based are still available here, but alas not in any huffduffable form.

Building Web Applications that Work Everywhere

The second book in Adam Scott’s series on ethical web development is a nice quick read, covering URL design, Service Workers, and performance.

How To Break Open The Web | Fast Company | Business + Innovation

Dan Gillmor and Kevin Marks report on the Decentralized Web Summit:

Kahle framed the gathering with three key questions: How can we build a reliable decentralized web? How can we make it more private? And how do we keep it fun and evolving?

Remarks at the SASE Panel On The Moral Economy of Tech

People who excel at software design become convinced that they have a unique ability to understand any kind of system at all, from first principles, without prior training, thanks to their superior powers of analysis. Success in the artificially constructed world of software design promotes a dangerous confidence.

Great stuff as usual from Maciej, ending with a rallying cry for us to pay attention to history:

This is not the first time an enthusiastic group of nerds has decided to treat the rest of the world as a science experiment. Earlier attempts to create a rationalist Utopia failed for interesting reasons, and since we bought those lessons at a great price, it would be a shame not to learn them.

There is also prior art in attempts at achieving immortality, limitless wealth, and Galactic domination. We even know what happens if you try to keep dossiers on an entire country.

If we’re going to try all these things again, let’s at least learn from our past, so we can fail in interesting new ways, instead of failing in the same exasperating ways as last time.

Human scale technology — Medium

A wonderful rallying cry for the indie web:

Do it yourself. Strip it down. Keep control. Make it for your community. Don’t do it for the money.

And this is where I start to understand what my friend Rebecca Gates means when she says that technologists and designers have a lot to learn from punk and indie rock. Leave the expensive, large scale, commercial arena rock to Facebook, Google, and Twitter.

We can be The Ramones.

And Bad Brains.

We can press our own records, and run our own labels.

We can make our own spaces based on our own values.

Such a shame that it’s only on Medium—the MOR of online publishing.

Building Web Apps for Everyone - O’Reilly Media

Here’s a fantastic and free little book by Adam Scott. It’s nice and short, covering progressive enhancement, universal JavaScript, accessibility, and inclusive forms.

Download it now and watch this space for more titles around building inclusive web apps, collaboration, and maintaining privacy and security.

Did I mention that it’s free?

When Websites Won’t Take No for an Answer - The New York Times

Our Harry’s in the New York Times! Well, an article on dark patterns is in the New York Times, and Harry is Mr. Dark Patterns.

Ethical Web Development

I really, really like these principles. Time to add them to the list.

The Moral Character of Cryptographic Work by Phillip Rogaway (PDF)

It’s a PDF and it’s an academic paper, but this rousing call to arms is a remarkably clear and engrossing read.

With few exceptions, the atomic scientists who worked on disarmament were not the same individuals as those who built the bomb. Their colleagues—fellow physicists—did that. Cryptographers didn’t turn the Internet into an instrument of total surveillance, but our colleagues—fellow computer scientists and engineers—did that.

It concludes with a series of design principles for the cryptographic community:

  • Attend to problems’ social value. Do anti-surveillance research.
  • Be introspective about why you are working on the problems you are.
  • Apply practice-oriented provable security to anti-surveillance problems.
  • Think twice, and then again, about accepting military funding.
  • Regard ordinary people as those whose needs you ultimately aim to satisfy.
  • Be open to diverse models. Regard all models as suspect and dialectical.
  • Get a systems-level view. Attend to that which surrounds our field.
  • Learn some privacy tools. Use them. Improve them.
  • Stop with the cutesy pictures. Take adversaries seriously.
  • Design and build a broadly useful cryptographic commons.
  • Choose language well. Communication is integral to having an impact.

We need to erect a much expanded commons on the Internet. We need to realize popular services in a secure, distributed, and decentralized way, powered by free software and free/open hardware. We need to build systems beyond the reach of super-sized companies and spy agencies. Such services must be based on strong cryptography. Emphasizing that prerequisite, we need to expand our cryptographic commons.

Why It’s OK to Block Ads | Practical Ethics

In reality, ad blockers are one of the few tools that we as users have if we want to push back against the perverse design logic that has cannibalized the soul of the Web.

If enough of us used ad blockers, it could help force a systemic shift away from the attention economy altogether—and the ultimate benefit to our lives would not just be “better ads.” It would be better products: better informational environments that are fundamentally designed to be on our side, to respect our increasingly scarce attention, and to help us navigate under the stars of our own goals and values. Isn’t that what technology is for?

Given all this, the question should not be whether ad blocking is ethical, but whether it is a moral obligation.

The ethics of modern web ad-blocking – Marco.org

Yes! Yes! YES!

Marco makes the same comparison I did between the dark days of pop-up windows and the current abysmal state of bloated ads and tracking on today’s web.

This won’t be a clean, easy transition. Blocking pop-ups was much more incisive: it was easy for legitimate publishers to avoid one narrowly-useful Javascript function to open new windows. But it’s completely reasonable for today’s web readers to be so fed up that they disable all ads, or even all Javascript. Web developers and standards bodies couldn’t be more out of touch with this issue, racing ahead to give browsers and Javascript even more capabilities without adequately addressing the fundamental problems that will drive many people to disable huge chunks of their browser’s functionality.

Amen!

I have one more thing to add to this list…

But publishers, advertisers, and browser vendors are all partly responsible for the situation we’re all in.

…developers. Somebody put those harm-causing script elements on those pages. Like I said: “What will you be apologising for in decades to come?”

In a few years, after the dust has settled, we’re all going to look back at today’s web’s excesses and abuses as an almost unbelievable embarrassment.

Publishing Versus Performance: Our Struggle for the Soul of the Web by Jeffrey Zeldman

Jeffrey weighs on the post I wrote about The Verge. I still feel like there’s a false dichotomy being presented here though: either performance or advertising. But advertising can be performant too. There’s a competitive advantage to be had there.