Stay on social media for any length of time, and you’re going to come across this opinion sooner or later: the world was better and kinder without all of this technology and the internet. There’s no demographic it tends to stick to, no sort of person it attracts above all others. Some people just think the internet was a mistake.
And, hey, if you only look at the bad news, it’s kind of hard not to come to the same conclusion. Social media can be insidious; the internet is full of scammers; as the new digital frontier becomes more familiar, a greater proportion of people know how to use the corners of the web to get what they want, regardless of whether it’s going to hurt others.
But kind of like getting food poisoning from Chipotle and swearing off all Mexican food forever, that’s not really the full picture.
The internet is full of problems. However, the technology behind the internet isn’t built to hurt any more than it’s built to solve complex equations and create art independently. All of that comes from people, and there’s ways of getting technology to do what you want without what you want affecting the real life stories of others.
Technology is by itself ethical. Here’s how.
“We spend too much time looking at screens!”
A big complaint we see a lot is that we’re too invested in screen time - we tend to hop onto a forum or a website for just a few minutes, and then fall down the internet rabbit hole of just one more scroll.
Social media websites are now realizing how detrimental social media and the constant scroll can be to your health. You can forgive them for not realizing earlier - as with many things online, this is new territory, and new territory brings new mistakes. Most social media sites and apps now have built-in screen-time warnings, encouraging you to put your phone down for longer periods of time when you’ve spent enough of it glued to your phone. If you’re in the habit of getting lost in your phone, this can be a big help to your mental and physical health.
As with any vice, the first step is awareness and education. Many people are just not aware of the effect that several hours per day of screen time can have on their mental health. In moderation, tech makes life better. In excess, it can cause problems.
“Everything needs a subscription!”
Okay, this one is a little true: free-for-all content is getting exceedingly rare, though you can still find it if you look hard enough.
But that’s not what this is about. This is about subscription fees.
We’re on the pre-internet side of the equation. A lot of us remember the whole concept of subscription fees as things you needed to pay via mail and jump through a lot of hoops to get resolved. With the internet speeding up the way we think and the way we work, subscription fee hoops are pretty much a thing of the past.
“People are selling our user data to third parties!”
This one’s an ongoing case - and it is true. There are some very disreputable websites that sell your data to others. It’s not all of them, and with the constant developments in internet safety and internet law, it’s hopefully going to become something that lives in the past pretty often. Is it going to be that easy to forget about it? No. Things on the internet tend to live forever - but there are takedown notices and other ways to get your data removed.
“The algorithm is pushing terrible content!”
Here’s another ongoing problem - and one that isn’t going to resolve itself quickly, but will resolve itself eventually. Computers don’t have an inherent sense of right and wrong. That comes from the creators of whatever social media or technology is running the show. Algorithms are codes that favor and push content that is popular or prioritize content that it thinks a user would like. The problem isn’t with the algorithm itself, but the moderation and content that is on the platforms, which means different measures need to be introduced. There are ways around this - but the internet is young, and we’re still finding our way around.
With all the problems that there are online, there are definitely ways that you, as an app-designer, can help. These four problems are by no means the only ones; just the ones you see the most often, and the ones that pop up when discussions of ethical technologies start.
Usage warnings are always a good thing. People get sidetracked, especially if the content is addictive, like short-form videos or something along those lines. To make sure that they don’t get lost in the scroll-hole, implementing quiet warnings or app cooldown periods can help.
Subscriptions should be a one-button cancellation and nothing more complicated. Does it suck to have your app lose a customer? Absolutely - but trying to con them into staying is not going to make your brand look any better. Just let the customer cancel their subscription when they want, and how they want, and they might keep you in mind for when they need another app that does what you do. And hey, your reputation will be left intact!
Keep your data collection to first-party data and don’t sell it off. It’s not going to work out for you. People are protective over their data, and there’s a big reason why companies that get caught in data breaches or data selling tend to get a lot of backlash. Stay on the right side of ethical and keep any data you’ve gathered for yourself.
Work on your algorithm and be stringent about your measures. This can be hard to do. Bad content can sneak in even with the best intentions, but that’s why you need hands-on diligence to make sure that you are giving your app the best possible environment, and the best possible way to grow.
None of these problems are difficult to solve, but they take a lot of thinking and a lot of planning. If you’re worried about how you’re going to work around one or more of these issues, drop us a line: we’re always excited to talk tech.