A new golden age for data ethics?

Recent weeks have seen intense scrutiny on how tech companies use our data. We caught up with our CEO, Joséphine Goube, for her take on how this is being done at various levels, and who she thinks is doing it right…

Tech for good?

At a point in history when technology seems to always find its way into the news as the source of another bogeyman story, any event showcasing the good we can achieve through its proper, ethical use is to be applauded.

So all due credit to French President Emmanuel Macron, who hosted last week a Tech for Good summit at the Élysée Palace. There, some of the biggest names in digital came together to make proposals on how the tech sector can have a positive impact on society ahead of 2018’s Viva Technology convention.

And by ‘biggest names’ we mean Facebook, Uber, SAP and SalesForce to name but a few. For Mark Zuckerberg, the timing was convenient since he was in Europe anyway for a closed-door grilling at the hands of the European Parliament.

If you’re detecting a hint of cynicism, it’s because I’m going to take a little convincing that Macron’s motivations for such a summit aren’t slightly political. Missing from the press announcements are open-source champions like Mozilla or Wikimedia, edged out of the headlines by multinational giants whose recent track record of ethical conduct is… well… a little bit lacking.

The French President secured commitments of positive action from these behemoths which is awesome. Uber announced that it will grant social security to all its drivers in France. IBM announced it would hire about 1,400 people in France over the next two years in the fields of blockchain and cloud computing. Would the summit not have happened, how many of these companies would have not gone ahead implementing these changes?

My take is that the summit was an excellent PR opportunity for Tech companies that have been not doing good to speak how they intend to do “good” from now on, and I will be watching closely how they are made accountable for it.

Already, I was very happy to hear the French Prime Minister in Matignon indirectly calling out Facebook for its half-baked GDPR changes. “Some of you, and I believe it’s the case of Microsoft, decided to enforce GDPR everywhere. And I encourage everyone to do the same.”

As I mingled with this extraordinary crowd of tech CEOs, I kept asking them how they would link up with local “tech for good” startup initiatives in France who are already doing the kind of “tech for good” they are aiming at. Yet, no one had a clear answer on how the two worlds (big tech companies and small tech startups) were going to collaborate – from both ends. This is a little frustrating as the Makesense, Simplon, Emmaus Connect, etc – all this “tech for good” scene that has emerged in the past decade would certainly benefit from the backing of big tech companies and vice versa.

All of this may well come to pass but I remain optimistic that Macron is doing something of greater substance than simply signalling that France remains open for business ahead of the GDPR.

Voices for virtual virtue

In the meantime, we’ve been busy finalizing the Techfugees guiding principles. These eight principles are the culmination of three years learning hard lessons in how to provide tech-based solutions to contribute to refugee inclusion.

Provided to our global community as advice and guidelines, the guiding principles serve as a badge of honor for those who adhere to our standards, and it helps us spot those who still have a bit of work to do before we can endorse them.

Adherents will need to demonstrate how refugees are involved in each step of the journey, and also justify their data security policies for example. The latter is obviously hugely important to us, in fact, it’s been part of an ongoing conversation with Lush.

Lush have been particularly on the ball when it comes to not just keeping their own house in order, but in helping spread a cautionary message when it comes to data. They recently screened a short film (in their usual quirky style), Mind Reading Algorithms Are Stealing Our Democracy, to show how data, when collected, processed, and targeted en masse, can be used to subvert the political process.

Towards an Age of Ethical Algorithms?

I find it hugely gratifying to hear so many prominent voices now joining the discussion on just what a precious resource our data is. From our founder Mike Butcher who joined us to discuss this on Lush’s podcast last month to talk data ethics, to the representative for innovation at the Vatican City with whom I discussed on stage at an event at Raise ahead of Vivatech.

Clara Gaymard from Raise, introducing the panel discussion on tech for social good


At Techfugees, we believe that there’s not one way of ‘doing tech,’ there are many. What differentiates these approaches is the simple intent.

Intent defines the kind of ethical philosophy which any tech brand will follow, and it has direct implication within the design of technology. Here lies the crux of the tech for good movement, in being a leading voice for the right kind of innovation, that which will ultimately benefit all of mankind.

In a time where it might seem that all data is evil, and anyone who deals in it is in league with evil, initiatives by Governments like this very symbolic tech for good summit and new regulations on data like GDRP are a dearly needed step up. They highlight all we can achieve when we start with the right intent and adhere to the right philosophy, and are a booster for grassroot initiatives that have been developing tech for good in the shadow.

Let’s build more tech interested in empowering people rather than exploiting people’s data for simple greed.

This post was written by the team at Sookio.

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