techUK urges companies to integrate digital ethics into business decision-making


Considerations around digital ethics should be more relevant to people's day-to-day lives and should be embedded into the heart of business decision making.

So claims industry body techUK, which says industry players and regulators only have a narrow window to convert ethics from debate into action reflected in the rampant innovation we see, or risk sidelining the issue altogether.

In its 'Digital ethics in 2019: Making digital ethics relevant to the lives people lead' report, techUK has outlined eight actions that can move the ethical debate forward into concrete action, and raise the prominence of ethical considerations.

Regulators, such as the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) or the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), must have the capacity to consider ethics while adjudicating and need to keep pace with how technology is being actively developed.

Organisations, meanwhile, must integrate ethical decision making into core businesses decisions, such as deliberating the positives and negatives around developing and deploying a certain innovation.

"Making digital ethics a boardroom issue is key but not a silver bullet," the report said.

"Ensuring employees across the organisation are involved in the ethics discussion will be key to helping keep businesses on the right track as the adoption of digital technologies increases.

"This means thinking about whether organisations have the capabilities and capacities needed to identify, consider and address ethical concerns, and the tools and processes that could help to guide ethical decision making."

The organisation's set of principles also demands the digital ethics debate is made relevant and valuable to people, engage with the public across the whole of the UK and demonstrate how ethics affects day-to-day life.

Moreover, with 2019 set to see an explosion of new thinking and output from several organisations, including the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation and the Ada Lovelace Institute, it's crucial these efforts are joined up.

There must be a mechanism to enable regular engagement between bodies and institutions, according to techUK, so that a shared vision and direction of travel emerges, instead of a set of marginally overlapping organisations repeating each others' work.

"If we are going to build greater public trust and confidence in technological innovations, we must demonstrate how digital ethics can deliver real answers to real concerns," said techUK's deputy CEO Antony Walker.

"2019 is the year we need to move digital ethics out of the conference room and into the Board room and business practices of organisations across the country. We have plenty of examples to demonstrate that thoughtful ethical practices support innovation and actually leads to better practices, products and services.

"We therefore look forward to working with a wide range of people, companies and organisations to make this happen."

A host of companies have begun outlining how they will increasingly make ethical considerations when developing new technologies, including Microsoft and Facebook around artificial intelligence (AI), and most recently Amazon around facial recognition.

While the ethical debate has gathered momentum among industry players and regulators in the last year, one of techUK's key points outlined in its paper is that digital ethics, crucially, mustn't just centre around AI.

These calls especially resonate less than a year since the EU's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into force, outlining greater data rights and protections, and a series of data collection scandals involving social media companies were unearthed.

The industry body will host its third annual Digital Ethics Summit in December 2019 where it will reassess the progress made in the previous 12 months by the organisations key to developing thinking around digital ethics.

Keumars Afifi-Sabet

Keumars Afifi-Sabet is a writer and editor that specialises in public sector, cyber security, and cloud computing. He first joined ITPro as a staff writer in April 2018 and eventually became its Features Editor. Although a regular contributor to other tech sites in the past, these days you will find Keumars on LiveScience, where he runs its Technology section.