Ethics as applied to the business world are nothing new, and ethics itself has been a topic of conversation and debate for thousands of years. But the rapid development of technology in the modern world brings with it both potential harm and benefits.
We now operate in a world where it is more and more difficult to opt out of a digitally mediated life, which is necessitating the increasing role of corporate digital ethics. New research from research and thought leadership org Leading Edge Forum(LEF) helps companies navigate the relationship between digital and business ethics, and provides a set of pragmatic tools that will assist at all stages of technological maturity with the application of sustainable ethical decision-making.
The new report, Stemming Sinister Tides: Sustainable Digital Ethics Through Evolution, by LEF’s Digital Anthropologist Dr. Caitlin McDonald, helps brands and businesses minimize risk by explaining how to use ethical frameworks as a way to not just define digital ethics, but make them ‘ethics of action’ that proactively influence the approach to tech development and implementation—essentially getting ethics away being from fading words on a page and into practice.
Organizations that fail to apply ethical thinking to their use and development of technology risk harm to their businesses in four key areas:
- Loss of customer base to more ethical service providers
- Loss of talent to more ethical employers
- Public harm through exacerbating systemic inequalities
- Loss of competitive edge against unethical actors
Critically, the research examines the evolutionary nature of digital ethics as a product or service moves through its development, as well as how different groups within the org will have varying views on ethical priorities. This dynamic and entwined mix of ethics can be complicated to understand, with its subtle interactions and initial intentions lost over time. The tools and techniques examined help companies map existing ethics before shaping an actionable model that can be taken forward by stakeholders under the corporate banner.
“Digital ethics has become a vitally important part of corporate life for companies that not just develop, but use technology at scale,” said Dr. McDonald. “Few people wake up in the morning and think, ‘Today’s a great day to be unethical.’ But all of us make decisions that require us to weigh competing interests. Sometimes this involves assessing impacts on different groups, including potential impacts that are not clear at the point of the decision.”
“Developing digital ethics is like having a digital strategy: you cannot have a digital strategy without a business strategy, and you cannot have digital ethics without business ethics,” McDonald added. “Digital ethics, and being ethically digital, is about managing the specific ethical concerns that emerge through technological ubiquity. This report is designed to give organizations a set of tools to help them navigate and define their own digital ethics in a way that is both actionable and sustainable in the long-term.”