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Calling for digital ethics

Although many people have agreed to the terms and conditions of the digital services they currently use, new technologies like the Internet of Things may infringe on user’s free will as it drives their behaviour as well as monitors it.

The need for CIOs to consider digital ethics has become paramount as the pace of technology change accelerates, according to Gartner.

Digital business has dramatically shifted the impact of corporate IT. Corporate IT now affects people’s work and lives more directly and pervasively than ever before. But whenever technology innovation moves faster than society, business and people can organise around it, ethical questions arise.

New technologies raise new ethical questions,” said Frank Buytendijk, research vice president at Gartner. “How do we deal with the fact that big data can turn into Big Brother quickly? What happens to individuals’ free will if The Internet of Things is driving their behaviour as well as monitoring it? As smart machines start to interact with people, and represent people’s actions, how do we make sure those actions are ethically acceptable to us?

Although consumers may use services and products willingly, and may have agreed to terms and conditions, they may not be aware of the unintended consequences of their use. For example, there has also been discussion about the impact on how we communicate with our smartphone and ethically about what the absence of non-verbal feedback is doing to human interaction.

While it is possible to do harm even when acting with good intentions, ignorance of ethical issues is unfortunately common. “When ignorance is combined with a failure to consider the broader impacts of technology, there is danger,” said Mr Buytendijk.

Gartner recommends that the board puts ethics and the role of technology on the agenda. There should be a culture in which ethical debate is considered normal, necessary and constructive. On the IT side, the CIO should lead the debate. The CIO is responsible for organising how technology is being set up, secured and available for intended use. At the same time, the CIO has a senior leadership position that allows for evangelising the topic throughout the organisation, in close collaboration with legal, risk management and the customer part of the business.

You can’t undo knowledge,” said Mr Buytendjik. “Once you are aware of the nature and importance of digital ethics, there is no more blissful ignorance or plausible deniability.

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