Connected Devices – Addressing Ethical Challenges for a Better Digital Future

VIRT-EU appears in the October edition: Open Access Government ed.24, “A better digital future: Meeting the ethical challenges of connected technologies” in which VIRT-EU coordinator Irina Shklovski explains how we might meet the ethical challenges of connected technologies and how the VIRT-EU project helps to address this concern.

Connected devices are now populating our homes, our intimate spaces and daily lives in ways that challenge us to rethink how the data these devices collect should be handled and to ask who is responsible for the behaviour of these devices?

“Who is responsible for the behaviour of IoT devices?”

Internet of Things (IoT) devices urge the burgeoning complexity of privacy concerns and data management today’s technology developers need to address. Many developers have little experience in dealing with these ethical questions, many of whom may wonder what is meant by ethics in the first place. VIRT-EU defines ethics as “values in action taken in contexts – within power relationships and constraints”. What this means is that ethics is a process that must take into account the responsibility that comes with power, and this takes time. VIRT-EU, of course, has been dealing with these questions since the dawn of the project and we will be finalizing our ethical toolbox and research outputs this December. So, you may ask, what is this toolbox and how can it be used as a guide for IoT developers in their decision-making?

ETHICS as “values in action taken in contexts – within power relationships and constraints”

First, the Privacy, Ethical and Social Impact Assessment (PESIA), accords with the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and is to provide a means for an impact assessment concerned with privacy, as well as social and ethical impacts. This state-of-the-art tool goes beyond mere compliance in mechanical tick-box fashion, embracing and providing means for broader reflection.

Second, we are developing a set of stand-alone tools based on an integration of three ethical traditions. These will aim to provide a clear language that is accessible for those unfamiliar with social and moral philosophy. This includes immersive explorations of value conflicts, ethical mapping of values, conflicts and compromises that emerge and develop over time, methods for identifying mismatches between values and material choices in development processes. These tools will be available for open access in a few months from the project website.

Finally, we will also make available educational aids and workshop facilitation scripts that we have developed over the course of the project. Watch this space!