As technology advances, it becomes increasingly important for app developers to examine the ethical dilemmas and responsibilities associated with emerging technologies like AI, automation, and data privacy and protection.
When you think of ethics, your mind goes straight to concepts such as morals, philosophy, the difference between right and wrong, and maybe even religion or behavioral sciences; software and application development wouldn’t even peak its head. However, believe it or not, in the current rapidly evolving landscape of technology, the topic of ethics, and the overall ethical considerations regarding tech-based product use and development, have taken center stage. Off course, this was bound to happen, especially now, as groundbreaking innovations such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, automation, 5G networks, biometric security, and others become more ingrained into our daily lives, and it seems like the line between enjoying technology to the fullest and allowing data collection while maintaining our data’s privacy starts to get increasingly blurry. As a result, the question of ethics, establishing developer responsibility, ensuring data protection, and even considering the potential consequences of the evolution of technology have become paramount in the app development arena.
We at Foonkie wanted to highlight the importance of developing applications and software products responsibly and keeping ethics at the forefront of all development endeavors. So, this time around, we want to delve into the complex but necessary realm of ethics and highlight which are the most important ethical considerations in app development. Let’s get going!
Why do we need ethical considerations in app development?
There’s no denying that mobile and software applications, and technology in general, have improved our lives in ways our ancestors could only dream of. They have become essential to help us communicate, work, shop, exercise, play games, and even eat, to name a few. However, no matter how disruptive or innovative technological advancements can be, with great power comes great responsibility, and since app developers are the holders of that power, it’s pivotal we place the ethical considerations of our digital products at the forefront when planning, building, and releasing them to our users.
So, as we keep building increasingly innovative and valuable IT-based products, ethics are starting to take center stage and are becoming more important for app development for the following reasons.
Ethics builds trust. When you develop IT-based products that not only are based on ethical development practices but are also straightforward about how they use user data, your users are more likely to engage with it because they feel it respects their privacy, security, and overall well-being. In that sense, ethics in app development fosters user confidence, which leads to increased usage, trust, and loyalty.
Ethics protects user data and privacy. As you know, most apps collect and handle sensitive user data. However, some of them don’t safeguard that data, putting their users’ privacy at risk. Ethical considerations in app development ensure that all user data collected is stored and used responsibly and transparently, protecting all stakeholders from breaches, hacking incidents, or any unauthorized access or other privacy violations.
Ethics help prevent harm to users. Modern applications are becoming much more valuable to users’ lives and much more efficient at meeting their needs; thus, they can have a significant impact on them and on society in general. As a result, ethical considerations in app development help prevent or minimize the creation of applications and software that encourage illegality, promote harmful behavior, spread panic or misinformation, enforce discrimination, or condone addiction, to name a few. Also, since AI-powered apps are becoming commonplace, these systems can inadvertently–or purposefully, in some cases–perpetuate harmful biases or discriminatory practices present in their training information. Ethical app development helps identify and correct these issues to ensure clean and valuable systems and apps.
Ethics help ensure long-term application sustainability. Ethical considerations in app development boil down to creating products that provide long-lasting value to users, developers, and society as a whole. By placing ethical development practices over monetary gains and other short-term business goals, app developers can create products that are much more likely to achieve sustained growth and success.
Ethical considerations in app development help improve reputation and brand image. Since it enforces user trust, ensures data protection, and promotes sustainability, ethics in app development contributes to improving your app’s reputation and help you develop a positive brand image. When applications and software are associated with an ethical behavior and ethical practices, not only is your company and brand more trustworthy, but users are more likely to download and recommend it.
So, in essence, ethical considerations in app development are important because they ensure we build applications that align with societal values, protect user data, are secure, prioritize user well-being, and, overall, contribute positively to the global digital landscape. But how can you implement ethical considerations in your app development practices?
How can you implement ethical considerations in app development?
Now that we understand just how crucial ethics are for app development, its necessary we start understanding how to enforce and embrace them so that us developers can really contribute to a more responsible, trustworthy, and sustainable app ecosystem. Implementing ethical processes in app development practices involves integrating key ethical principles into every stage of the development process. Here are some best ways you can start.
Identify any ethical flaws in your development processes
The firsrt step to take when enforcing ethics in app development is to identify any potential ethical flaws, risks, gaps, and concerns in your development processes. For this, you must evaluate your entire process to identify:
- User privacy violations
- Data security flaws and non-transparent data usage practices
- Algorithmic biases
- Spots where user consent is needed
- Discriminatory practices
- Addictive design patterns
- Envoironmentally impactful practices
- Regulatory compliance violations
To effectively address these and other ethical flaws, you need to conduct a very thorough ethical assessment of your company, involve your employees and colleagues so you get diverse perspectives, and integrate ethical considerations into all stages of your app development cycle. This way, you’ll easy spot problem areas and will be able to correct them effectively.
Take a user-centric development approach
As we’ve mentioned several times before, taking a user-centric approach in app development is non-negotiable. It not only helps you prioritize the needs, preferences, and well-being of users but also guides you throughout the entire design and development process of your app and gives you a north. In that sense, taking a user-centric app development approach plays a crucial role in ethical app development because it helps you create apps that respect your users’ rights and their well-being.
So, you can start by embedding user privacy into your app’s architecture from the get-go. Doing so will ensure you minimize data collection, only ask for relevant information, and keep all stored user data secure at all times. It will also help you and other relevant stakeholders stay transparent about data handling practices, which, as we already discussed, is key to building trust and protecting your users. Similarly, you can also create and set up easy-to-use feedback channels to allow your users to voice their concerns, report issues or glitches, express their concerns, and provide suggestions so you can act on this feedback promptly and make your app even more user-centered.
Lastly, taking a user-centric approach in ethical app development is not just about creating a positive user experience. It will also allow you to implement UX/UI ethical-driven principles and elements such as avoiding dark patterns, addictive or manipulative design practices, and other deceitful interface choices that exploit users and go against ethical development. Instead, make sure you prioritize UX/UI design choices that are transparent, inclusive, accessible, user-friendly, protect your users, and are respectful to them.
Implement algorithmic fairness
Algorithmic fairness is an ethical principle that ensures that algorithms and other automated systems are transparent and do not enforce discriminatory or biased outcomes. It helps developers address and correct the potential discriminatory risks that can arise from using algorithms in applications such as lending, customer service, or hiring, where, if not careful, these systems can favor some users while ignoring others. As a result, these biases can not only impact your app’s user experience but also hinder your application’s efforts at being ethical and fair. In that sense, algorithmic fairness is a critical aspect of ethical app development, especially in applications that heavily rely on algorithms for decision-making.
Ensuring algorithmic fairness is not only essential to support and promote ethical app development in your company but also to help you prevent biases and discrimination that can hamper your product’s adoption and hurt your brand. So, you can start implementing algorithmic fairness by creating and using algorithms in your application that are programmed to take into account all the elements necessary to make wholesome decisions, which typically starts with the quality of the data used to train them. Any biased, low-quality, ambiguous training data used can lead to shady outcomes. Moreover, these algorithms must undergo regular auditing and continuous testing to assess how they make decisions and gauge their fairness to identify potential biases in a timely manner.
Still, no matter how careful and vigilant you are about the integrity of your algorithms, you should have accountability mechanisms in place so you can address any algorithmic inconsistencies. And, when any bias or discrimination is identified, you need to have clear mitigation strategies that allow you to effectively eliminate the problem and avoid discrimination against users based on attributes such as socioeconomic status, job position, race, gender, religion, or any type of disability they may have.
Take a look at your team
Enforcing ethics in app development isn’t just about algorithms and processes. Regardless of how optimally you’re handling all the practices and recommendations discussed above, if your team isn’t on the same page, you ethical-driven endeavors will fail. So, you must implement ethics as an ongoing learning process that becomes an integral part of your team’s daily work, not just a dull point on a checklist. This continuous learning process guarantees that ethical reflection never stops; it is iterative, it is not a one-time lecture, taken at training and forgotten. What’s more, you need to start mentioning ethical app development from the hiring process and stretch the concept to raech every part of your development cycles, always putting ethics at the forefront of your business practices.
Moreover, because mobile and software technologies are continually evolving and changing, ethical considerations in app development must be weaved into operational policies and must be enforced at all times, not only when it’s a requirement. This way, your incentivizing your team members to consider their products’ ethical outcomes, helping them enforce ethics and adjust their decisions and practices to fit your visions so that everybody learns and understands the impact they have on users’ lives.
Educate your users
Last but not least; your users. All the points exposed above won’t make a meaningful business nor societal impact if you don’t educate your users about how to use your application responsibly. Hence, user education is essential to perpetuate ethics in app development and plays a pivotal role in helping your app’s users understand their rights, duties, data privacy considerations and managment, and how to use technology responsibly.
For that, first and foremost, you need to make your app’s privacy policies easily accessible, written in simple language so everyone understsands them and can give clear consent options. Doing so will educate your users about the importance of keeping their data privacy and how that data is collected by the app. Moreover, it would also be helpful to encourage your users to use your application responsibly and ethically. For instance, if it’s a healthcare app, you can educate your users about the risks of sharing medical data and the importance of respectful communication with their providers and other users. You may also want to explain the settings and controls available to them to help them customize their in-app experience, tell them about the importance of using strong passwords and access credentials, such as two-factor authentication, and, if needed, you can also provide your users wih information about the app’s algorithms and how the system’s decision-making processes work.
Ethical app development can’t be just a trend; we need to insert the core premise of ethics into all development initiatives and start seeing ethics as a means of upholding ethical standards and respecting users’ rights and dignity. Ethics is a fundamental responsibility in our ever-evolving digital landscape and we must keep it at the forefront if we want to prioritize our users well-being, their data privacy, our products’ fairness and wholesomeness, and enforce inclusivity and accesibility. In that sense, and as robust app developers, we have the power and responsibility to implement these principles and help shape successful and valuable digital experiences for millions of people worldwide.
Here at Foonkie Monkey, we always strive to keep ethics as a leading edge element in our development processes. So, if you have any questions regarding ethical app development or want an experienced team like ours to work on your new app, get in touch! We’re more than happy to help!