News  |    |  May 3, 2018

The Terribly Thin Conception of Ethics in Digital Technology

News article by David Golumbia.
Published on his blog


Thanks in part to ongoing revelations about Facebook, there is today a louder discussion than there has been for a while about the need for deep thinking about ethics in the fields of engineering, computer science, and the commercial businesses built out of them. In the Boston Globe, Yonatan Zunger wrote about an “ethics crisis” in computer science. In The New York Times, Natasha Singer wrote about “tech’s ethical ‘dark side.’

Chris Gilliard wrote an excellent article in the April 9, 2018 Chronicle of Higher Education focusing specifically on education technology titled How Ed Tech is Exploiting Students. Since students are particularly affected by academic programs like computer science and electrical engineering, one might imagine and hope that teachers of these topics would be particularly sensitive to ethical concerns.

Gilliard’s concerns, expressed repeatedly in the article, have to do with 1) what “informed consent” means in the context of education technology; 2) with the fact that participating in certain technology projects entails that students are, often unwittingly, contributing their labor to projects that benefit someone else—that is, they are working for free; and 3) with the fact that the privacy implications of many ed-tech projections are not at all clear to the students [ . . . ]