Digital ethics: a guide for professionals of the digital age

22 février 2019 | Cigref in english

Cigref and Syntec Numérique, as representatives of the main players in digital society, believe that a common and shared vision of digital ethics needs to be developed as a matter of urgency, in order to build, together, the solid basis needed for trust going forward.

That is why our two organisations were keen to develop a practical frame of reference that companies and their partners can all use, in order to educate teams and managers about the ethical challenges of digital technology, and give them the tools to deal with them.

French version :
Ethique & Numérique : un référentiel pratique pour les acteurs du numérique

Digital technology is bringing about a radical change in business, a paradigm shift that has an impact on organisational practices, business models, management methods and human relationships. The nature of work is changing, and the boundaries of business are shifting. This transformation is giving rise to new opportunities for the new digital economy, but is also raising new and related ethical issues. There has never been so much talk about the issues around data protection, respect for privacy, neutrality, the transparency of algorithms and the right to be forgotten. Every business stakeholder must therefore be urged to grip the potential opportunities linked to new digital tools and uses, and at the same time the ways in which they might be misused. But how can we come to terms practically with this subject in business, and what ethical issues need to be addressed with departments and/or operations teams?

AI technology is a fast-growing field, and people are becoming very anxious about the ethical issues raised by the growth in digital uses. However, this area is about much more than just the dilemmas that might hypothetically relate to, for example, a driverless car. Tool bias, environmental impacts and the ethical issues solution designers have to address are just some of the points that merit discussion from an ethical standpoint.

The public authorities have grappled with the issue of ethics and digital technology, including the proposal, made in the Villani report, and in the report from CERNA (the Research Ethics Board of Allistene, the Digital Sciences and Technologies Alliance), to set up a national digital ethics council modelled on the existing consultative ethics committee for life sciences and healthcare.

While praising this approach, Cigref and Syntec Numérique, as representatives of the main players in digital society, wanted to provide an initial, operational take on the subject. The aim of this guide is to describe the topics that are being – or should be – considered by people working with digital technology in their current practice, and to provide some pragmatic answers to the questions they have.

This guide is an educational tool for digital professionals, and a first step on the way to a common vision of ethics we can all share, a key element in building trust in the digital economy. This is a tool everyone can use!

The “Digital Ethics” guide from Cigref and Syntec Numérique is intended to categorise the ethical issues linked to digital technology, from the point of view of both the user (Cigref) and the designer of digital solutions and/or services (Syntec Numérique). It offers food for thought (which questions might companies ask themselves about the ethics of digital technology?) and suggests avenues to pursue.

This guide is not exhaustive. It is designed to be generalist and open to any contributions. Nor is it intended to restate a company’s regulatory duties; the regulations state precisely what is and is not allowed, and the applicable sanctions. Companies are obliged to comply, and this has nothing to do with ethics. However, there might be ethical issues around how they achieve compliance.

This guide does however address a number of key points in the GDPR, the regulation which writes into law a range of concepts that had previously been discussed from an ethical standpoint, such as the notion of privacy by design.

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