Ethical questions related to the role of technology are increasingly being debated in several new arenas. Often, it’s not clear who should be the arbiter of debatable issues when technology butts’ heads with political, free speech, and morality concerns.

So Many Questions. So, Few Answers.

Who, for example, decides the limits of free speech on social media platforms? Who defines what constitutes hate speech? Is there an umbrella ethics oversight committee where complaints can be registered and arbitrated?

What if we, at Strategic Systems Group (SSG), discovered that a software program that we’re implementing for our clients, has been used for nefarious purposes? That’s what happened to Salesforce.com, a major player in CRM software.

A group of 90 women accused Salesforce.com of facilitating sex-trafficking through its work with the now-defunct Backpage web portal. On September 20th of this year, a state judge in San Francisco tentatively ruled that the women’s claims were barred by a federal law that holds operators of internet services blameless for content posted by third parties.

Legal Does Not Equal Ethical

To be clear, Saleforce.com was not being accused of sex trafficking. They had merely provided technical assistance to Backpage. In the other Backpage was a Salesforce.com client. How many degrees of separation are needed to hold a company blameless for the actions of its customers? Again, these are questions that are begging for answers when it comes to technology.

As an individual or corporate consumer, do we have the right to know who a given company’s customers are? We certainly have the right to choose not to be affiliated with any company whose value systems do not align with ours. But they would first have to divulge their client list.

#NoTechForICE

This is an organization that stands against migrant prosecutions and deportations, and against what they see as the inhumane treatment of migrants in detention centers. They, therefore, stand against companies that provide ICE with technological support. Prominent among them are Amazon Web Services (AWS), Palantir, Northrop Grumman, Microsoft, and Salesforce.

If you identified with their disdain for ICE, would you stop using Microsoft Word? If you worked for a company that used the AWS cloud platform, would you ask your company to migrate to another cloud platform? Perhaps the management of your company agrees with ICE tactics, as they have the right to do. What then? Do you quit your job?

These are not simple questions. Nor are there simple answers. It becomes political. Do politics have a place in the workforce? Should they? Wouldn’t that result in yet another layer of the polarization that, so people seem to deplore? If we’re asking our legislators to work together on both sides of the aisle, shouldn’t we be open-minded enough to do the same?

The Open Source Debate

Software ethics have had a profound effect on the open-source community, as open-source software is becoming increasingly popular among enterprises that historically preferred proprietary vendors. One open-source contributor recently proposed a “Hippocratic License” that would prohibit the use of open-source software to harm others, an idea that has gained some traction. Others in the open-source community believe that placing ethical limitations on the use of the software is contrary to the very ideals of open source.

Thorny

These are, to say the least, all thorny issues. SSG is not taking a stand one way or the other. We’re just putting these conflicting ideas out there for you to think about. What we do believe is that it will be interesting to see how these issues evolve in 2020 and beyond. We’re watching the headlines and we hope you will be, too. Because it’s always best to be an informed consumer, whether you’re buying home goods or software.

Our Focus Is on Manufacturing

Founded in 1991, Strategic Systems Group has focused exclusively on implementing ERP software for manufacturers nationwide. You can count on us to find the technology solution that’s just right for you. And then we’ll implement it, customize it, support, and maintain it.

For more information about how SSG can optimize your manufacturing processes, please contact SSG at (310) 539-4645 or via our contact form today!

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