Becoming An Ethical App Developer at Renaissance IO
Last week I had the chance to attend Renaissance IO – a single track conference focused on helping iOS app developers build better software. The small size of the conference and openness of the community created a unique experience. Every attendee got the chance to talk with every speaker and create new friends to go along with the valuable insight and inspiration the conference provided. If you weren’t able to make it, I recommend you sign up to see videos of the sessions.
Every session was valuable and while I generally write-up an overview of the conferences I attend, I’ll be focusing on one session that stood out for me and leave the rest to be consumed via the video sessions.
Ethics for App Makers
Shannon Vallor, a professor of philosophy at Santa Clara University, gave a talk on a subject that I have heard in regards to technology, but never broken down and targeted specifically at app developers.
As an app developer have you ever thought about ethics in regards to your work?
1. Set Appropriate Limits
You should limit the amount and kinds of information you collect about the people using your app. Only collect information you need for the app to perform its function. Don’t collect as much information as you can and store it for later just in case you may need it.
Every question and data point you collect about your customers needs to be carefully considered. Make sure you know why you are collecting something, how it will be used, and who you are collecting it for. If information is somehow leaked who could be affected and how seriously? Who might be able to gain access or purchase the information at a later time?
Not everyone is comfortable with sharing personal information. Look at your app through the perspective of an ordinary customer whose expectations and comfort zone can be different from an app developer or extremely tech savvy individual.
2. Making Money
Is taking advantage of human psychology or age an ethical way to make money? This is an interesting discussion. In general, it is difficult to make a living off of mobile apps so any solution to help developers make money is used. Apps that make money by appealing to people’s natural desires and tendencies may seem like an ethical way to make money, but in some situations it isn’t. Just because it is natural doesn’t necessarily mean it is good, just as doing something legally doesn’t make it right. You need to decide for yourself if your app and your monetization strategy is something you’d be proud to tell your friends and family about.
3. Software That Reinforces Socioeconomic Inequalities
Do the apps that you develop reinforce socioeconomic inequalities? Probably not, but it is something to always consider. If your app is expensive or requires equipment that many people cannot afford, does that make it inaccessible to people who may need it? If it is, then you should consider taking measures to expand affordability of the product.
4. The Blame Game – Corporate Software Development
Should you worry about how the software you develop is being used by your company? Yes! Developers understand the nature of technology and how it can affect people better than anybody. Make sure you stay involved and know how the code you wrote is being used.
When it comes down to it, you can be blamed for anything, whether it was your fault or not, that’s just the nature of the world we live in. It is your job to stand up and take the correct course of action when you can. Be conscious of how your software is used. If you foresee an unethical use of your software standup and say something. If you discover that software is being used unethically after the fact, it is never too late to remedy the problem.
The discussion on ethical software development is something every developer should take part in at least once. It is important to take a step back and look at what you do in the larger scheme of things, especially as software has such an impact on our lives. Just keeping these ideas in mind will help us create apps that help us flourish together as opposed to software that may exploit us instead.
Security and Privacy Rights
Security, privacy, and ethics all go hand in hand. I recommend that you read the FTC guidelines on mobile app privacy and take the necessary steps to securely store the information you gather from your customers. As software becomes more and more integral to our daily lives, we should be confident that it is helping us grow positively and reassure people that their information is safe and secure.