You Can’t Fix Unethical Design by Yourself

Individual action isn’t enough to spur the paradigm shift we need

Eva PenzeyMoog


Photo: Hero Images/Getty Images

NNearly every tech conference right now has at least one, if not many, sessions about ethics: Ethics in artificial intelligence, introductions to data ethics, why letting the internet go to sleep is the ethical thing to do, or just plain integrating the basics of ethics into your design. We as a community are doing a great job raising questions about the implications of technology and spreading awareness to our communities about the potential for harm.

I should know — I’m one of the speakers doing it. My talk, “Designing Against Domestic Violence,” has been accepted to more conferences than I ever dreamed. I’ve been happily surprised to hear from conferences specifically themed around development languages that I never once mention. Conference organizers want talks like this. Overall, I’m thrilled with the interest in how our digital products can facilitate domestic abuse and how we can design against it.

Which is why I want you to trust me when I say that this kind of ethics education is not enough. Don’t get me wrong — it absolutely matters. I wouldn’t be giving up all of my free time and have quit my lucrative teaching side hustle if I didn’t think it was worth it. People seek me out during conferences to ask…