Google’s unofficial motto was once known simply as “don’t be evil”. When Google was reorganised under a new parent company, Alphabet, in 2015, the tech giant assumed a slightly adjusted version of the motto, “do the right thing.” When Google came up with this motto it was unclear why there was a need for a tech company to focus on ethics and morality around its branding. It has now become very clear why this was necessary. Tech was once an innocent entity and player in society. Tech is now responsible for some of the worst harms that are facing modern society. The sad reality however is that it’s difficult to distinguish between good and bad tech. Is it therefore necessary to develop a warning label for bad tech?
An answer to that question requires a deeper understanding of how deep we are in the bad tech hole. It is now possible to use an app or website which enables bad actors to have access to your personal financial information, location, activities and any other thing you would like to keep private. Bad actors come in all shapes and forms. Sometimes you get outright criminals that will never reveal who they are. Sometimes you can deal with a bad actor which is known but not branded as evil due to how its public image is managed.
A more nuanced scenario of a bad actor are regions from which some tech is developed. In the tech world there’s a debate about US tech and Chinese tech and its impact on society. This debate ranges from network infrastructure to information platforms such as Tik Tok and Youtube. One region (US) labels tech from the other region (China) while the region (US) that labels others as bad is also producing bad bad tech. In cases like these it’s difficult for consumers and ordinary people to make the best choice as neutral information is lacking.
Currently there’s no neutral body and an unbiased indicator to warn about bad tech and it’s desperately needed. Reports about tech bad behaviour are no longer sufficient to warn society. There’s now a need for a clear indicator of bad actors in tech. Some tech companies have been committing bad acts and they are still considered innovators who are solving the world’s problems. The truth is that in tech, some innovators are adding to society’s problems with their tech. These problems can range from something as simple as tech effects on human interactions,misinformation to surveillance of its users. All of these effects need to be factored when users (consumers, enterprises and governments) make decisions about the technology they will use. At a surface level however it is not always easy for some consumers to make an informed decision as facts are not always clear.
For this reason, the tech industry needs a neutral body and indicator to assist consumers across the board with the process of choosing tech that will not harm them. Such an indicator can take various forms that includes a rating that can be clearly visible for ordinary consumers when they buy hardware and clear warnings for software type of technologies.
As for enterprises and governments, an unbiased rating of technologies can assist them in choosing technologies that are not harming society in one way or another.
Warning labels have been used for tobacco and alcohol products.
At some point, Prince Harry criticised social media as being “more addictive than alcohol and drugs”. As matters stand some technologies such as social media have been instrumental in harming people in many ways. Some social media companies have tried to label what they consider to be fake content. This approach however has shortcomings. A study co-authored by an MIT professor, based on multiple experiments with news consumers, indicated that tagging some stories as false makes readers more willing to believe other stories and share them with friends, even if those additional, untagged stories also turn out to be false. For this reason, it may be better to assign a label to a social media platform to clearly indicate the possible effects of using a specific social media platform.
When Google was using the “Don’t Be evil” slogan most users trusted the platform to some extent. At a later stage, Google changed and this forced them to change their slogan. Is it time that Google starts adopting the “Don’t Be evil” slogan again and get other tech companies to follow suit?