How young people imagine a responsible tech sector

The Common Futures Conversations community share their policy proposals for how communities and governments can deliver responsible technology.

3 minute READ

The extraordinary expansion of the tech sector into the lives of people across the world is unprecedented. From waste collection to weapons production, tech has changed the lives of almost every person on the planet but these developments have not all been positive. 

The burgeoning power of tech companies and the slow pace of regulation has fuelled concerns about the state of privacy, equality, and accountability within the tech sector. With such a colossal pace of change, it is no surprise governments struggle to keep up and regulation often falls short.

In 2022, Common Futures Conversations members from Africa and Europe discussed their personal experiences of the impact of technology on their communities, and suggested policy proposals for how communities and governments can deliver responsible technology.

Reduce ‘ethics washing’

– Stelios Kavvadias, Greece

In working towards creating a more ethical tech space, ethics must not become yet another marketing trick similar to green-washing practices. Selectively publishing deceiving or untruthful information which showcases the ethical character of an organization, while contradictory information is concealed, should not be the norm. 

Non-profit organizations could be created to ensure companies prove they are following ethical practices

Stelios Kavvadias, Greece

The tech sector must allow independently funded research organizations into their companies to conduct regular investigations, ensuring companies are acting to a high standard and being transparent. Companies which do the right thing should welcome such investigation.

The Internet Commission in the UK strives to advance digital responsibility through independent evaluation and has already worked with companies such as the BBC, Sony Interactive Entertainment Europe, and Twitch. 

It investigates how organizational cultures, systems, and processes shape online experiences and how these contribute to ethical business practice. Similar non-profit organizations could be created to ensure companies prove they are following ethical practices and inspire wider industry change. 

Support the poor by reframing technology

– Carrie Anne Swartz, South Africa

The wealth gap in many developing countries is widening and the impacts of COVID-19 have exacerbated this gap and laid bare the depth of the problem. One solution suggested and implemented by governments, corporations, and other large organizations is to increase technological capability in the poorest areas. 

Although this is a positive development, many seem unaware that in rural areas there is a lack of the infrastructure needed to sustain these technologies, such as reliable internet connection and electricity supply. 

It is crucial to reframe how we define technology when trying to bridge wealth and education gaps, and one way to do so might be by taking the internet out of technology. Providing the world’s poorest with products such as mobile phones, walkie-talkies, and pagers could increase accessibility and communications capacity while not requiring expensive internet connectivity to function. 

Removing the need for internet connectivity and redefining what is considered vital technology is the easiest, fastest, and cheapest way for technology to become gradually more accessible.

Audit research data to reduce gender data gap

– Ayaan Tigdikar, UK

The gender data gap is a tremendous challenge to equality, and the safety of women and girls has been compromised for far too long by using easily accessible male-dominated data sets in research and development. 

Data auditing scrutinizes data objectively to ensure it is accurate and representative of the population.

Ayaan Tigdikar, United Kingdom

It is essential tech products are cross-verified by reliable third-party agencies to ensure the datasets used when developing the product are representative of the end-user. 

Data auditing, a procedure commonly used within IT companies, scrutinizes data objectively to ensure it is accurate and representative of the population. Research and development and product design departments within firms must be required to conduct data audits which will uncover gendered data biases and reduce the risk of unsafe products being put to market. 

As with regulation on financial auditing, governments must legislate in favour of data auditing, ideally carried out by reliable private auditing companies on any new or pre-existing tech products which are, or will be, used by the general population.

Regulate lethal autonomous weapons systems

– Sarah Dubuffet, Belgium

Despite the severe challenges presented by lethal autonomous weapons systems (LAWS) and a decade-long negotiation, states have failed to agree on common regulations and this was made obvious during the last dedicated session of the Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) held in Geneva at the end of July 2022.

LAWS are problematic from an ethical perspective as they may transfer human responsibility to data systems, reducing human control and diminishing the role of human judgment in decision-making.

LAWS are problematic from an ethical perspective as they may transfer human responsibility to data systems

Sarah Dubuffet, Belgium

Any solutions related to the regulation of LAWS must come from states at the international level. States can use existing bodies such as the GGE LAWS to work on the development of a normative and operational framework on LAWS. 

This work would ideally result in a legally binding agreement governing the use of LAWS, to work through a combination of both prohibitions and regulations recognizing the centrality of human control over the development and use of LAWS. 

States should also consider raising the topic of LAWS in other settings or create new forums as existing ones have so far failed primarily due to vetoes. States must continue involving civil society in consultation processes to ensure proper representation of society’s interests.

Improve data protection laws and support in developing countries

– Brian Oduti, Uganda

Several developing countries have legislated on privacy and data protection, but enforcement has been inadequate. The data of millions of people is being shared with third parties and there is a real concern for the personal safety of individuals at risk, especially migrants, sexual minorities, journalists, and opposition politicians in certain countries.

Enforcing data protection and privacy laws can be improved through enhancing the knowledge, funding, and other capacities of the state agencies responsible for data protection regulation. This would improve their ability to function and issue strong penalties.

Developing countries (cont.)

Knowledge of individual rights is important for citizens to understand so they can identify and report cases of data protection and privacy violations. This will also help human rights defenders and the courts to track and identify violations.

Specialized digital legal aid services could protect the rights of the most vulnerable who cannot access legal services. Privacy policies are not accessible as they are often drafted in complex legal jargon by experienced and expensive lawyers, a legal and financial power which must be checked.