As we witness the repercussions of years of unchecked innovation and ongoing investigations into how companies have managed the data they collect from us, we’re extra conscious of protecting our information. While users can opt out of a handful of features upon opening or signing up for a social media platform, much of the data privacy debacle remains up to innovators and tech CEOs to solve. As such, venture capitalist firm Omidyar Network and design studio Artefact banded together to create a helpful tech toolkit—The Ethical Explorer Pack—for sparking difficult conversations within organizations and across teams and inspiring solutions that quell consumer concerns.
The Ethical Explorer Pack uses Omidyar Network’s research (“a deeper exploration into the relationship between technology and ethics,” Sarah Drinkwater, Director at Omidyar Network, says) as its foundation. Artefact built upon it to form a go-to tool of eight “Tech Risk Zone” cards meant for formal assessments and a comprehensive field guide for all other occasions. Best of all, the kit is free—to download or to order as a physical copy.
“The design of the Ethical Explorer Pack is informed by the people who use it. We conducted research with dozens of product owners and designers, tech influencers, educators and subject-matter experts to determine what would best help them advocate for more ethical products,” Hannah Hoffman, Design Director at Artefact, tells CH. “People wanted a tool that could fit the scale of their needs at any moment of their product development lifecycle—whether it’s a quick provocation for a stand-up meeting or aligning a team on a more thoughtful approach to a new feature or product launch. The Ethical Explorer reflects those needs, as a set of organized questions paired with a friendly field guide to help users best leverage these questions.”
“We also know advocating for more thoughtfulness in a fast-paced industry like tech is incredibly difficult and can feel like uncharted territory. The Ethical Explorer brand translates these daunting ethical challenges into an approachable nature metaphor of risks encountered in the wild. This framing is designed to support and excite people along their ethical tech journey,” Hoffman continues.
Unfortunately, technology and ethics have often existed independently of one another. As much as engineers attempt to create cute innovations, autonomous robots are rarely met with trust—and that’s just one example. Despite concerns around Amazon and the reach of their Alexa voice assistant (and all of its iterations), millions still use these devices in their homes. Consumers can educate themselves on the risks of using predatory technology but CEOs and developers need to claim responsibility, too.
“We’re in the midst of a pandemic, economic fallout, fight for racial justice, intense political polarization and increased scrutiny of technology decisions. Tech workers need better tools and more space for nuanced conversation, on complex topics like exclusion and surveillance, to foster better business decisions. They also need help starting those discussions and linking them to what’s happening inside their companies as well as on the global stage,” Drinkwater tells us. “Ultimately, the Ethical Explorer Pack leads individuals and companies toward intentionally building tech that values fundamental human rights, empowers users and creates healthy online experiences. It guides them in how to start small, discover common ground and empower their team to create human-centered technology—one conversation at a time.”
These conversations—especially when an individual is just one developer or engineer within a team of hundreds or even thousands—can be difficult to start. Especially so if the company’s ultimate goal is light-speed innovation above all else.
“Getting teams to be accountable for developing responsible tech can feel like an uphill battle, a full-time job and uncharted territory all rolled into one. We want people to question and challenge norms without feeling the need to be an expert in tech ethics,” Hoffman says. “The Ethical Explorer pack’s actionable suggestions and positive language encourage people—no matter their role or project stage—to champion more responsible design in their organizations.”
Even the smallest organizations have the potential to expand into multi-billion dollar behemoths, and Omidyar and Artefact want those behind them to consider the potential consequences of their growth—whether they reach these levels or not. That includes how users will feel after using their app, what data truly needs to be collected and the ways a diverse user base can feel actively a part of the innovation. The eight risk zone cards cover the bases and an additional blank card provides flexibility for a specific situation.
They are: “Exclusion: How will we enable equity? Outsized Power: How will we promote choice? Surveillance: How will we protect privacy Disinformation: How will we promote truth? Bad Actors: How will we promote civility? Addiction: How will we promote healthier behaviors? Algorithmic Bias: How will we promote fairness? Data Control: How will we enable transparency?” Hoffman explains.
The Ethical Explorer pack is not a solution, but the beginning of a journey
The Ethical Explorer Pack aims to foster more equitable, engaged and aware companies—whether they’re just launching or are prepping for their 10th anniversary. As more companies use the kit (thousands have downloaded it or ordered a copy) both Omidyar and Artefact hope there’s a domino effect: a wave of awareness that stretches the entire industry. They hope it will amplify the companies that were already doing this work and alter the actions of those who’d ignored it.
“The eight Tech Risk Zone cards help start thoughtful conversations around risk, responsibility and impact in key areas like disinformation and data control. They don’t tell the tech workers what to do, but rather how to recognize, challenge and question the decisions they make,” Drinkwater continues.
“The Ethical Explorer pack is not a solution, but the beginning of a journey,” Hoffman concludes.
Images courtesy of Omidyar Network + Artefact