Ethics and Technology – #WATWB

Slightly over 40 years ago, when I was in graduate school, “Business Ethics” wasn’t a separate course, but it was a section that was covered in several courses. A wide variety of topics were covered in these sections, but there was always one caveat – as young men and women eager to enter the job market, we were advised to “hang onto these concepts until you’re comfortable in your position” – in other words, we shouldn’t expect to be calling the ethical shots anytime soon.

Fast-forward to 2018, and almost every provider/user of technology is facing ethical challenges. An alarming abundance of data is being gathered by applications, shared via social media and sold between organizations. Technology is evolving and expanding so fast that ethical boundaries are often crossed without people (those gathering data and those from whom data has been gathered) even being aware of their location.

Last week, I was reading an article about the rising number of college courses, and even degree programs in ethics in medical technology. Unfortunately, the article was in a proprietary publication and I can’t share it. Medical professionals operate under a code of ethics, less so pharmaceutical companies and health insurers. So, I was pleased to see a long list of seminars like “Technology & Mental Health” being offered by the School of Social Work Continuing Education • University of Pittsburgh – the university I attended. The following snippets are from the brochure:

“This workshop will discuss, review, and experience the latest technology solutions for the social work profession in the mental health field. The program explores ethical dilemmas and clinical challenges that exist when considering the use of technology in the delivery of social work clinical interventions and documentation with a focus on the updated Code of Ethics.

Be familiar with technologies that are already present in the health care space…and potential ethical issues related to using them, including boundaries, confidentiality/privacy, informed consent, and competence.

Articulate challenges to privacy related to using video technology and health apps with clients/patients and families.

Explore the role of health care professionals in helping children and families understand how to safely use and navigate the on-line world.

Explore the need to create inter-professional relationships with technology professionals as a part of competent, ethical practice.”

From my point of view, the last topic is the most important. Technology professionals need to better understand how and why data is used and how it should be controlled. I could go on, but I’m bumping up against the word limit. I’ll leave you with this thought: Right now, we have to be our own advocates. We have to protect our data. We have to ask questions and demand answers, and we have to learn more about the ways in which data is collected, used and how it can be protected. I am encouraged by the growing number of courses and seminars, and I encourage everyone to consider taking advantage of educational opportunities in your profession.

The “We are the World” Blogfest has extended its year-long journey and is in its 17th month. This blogfest’s goal is to spread the message of light, hope and love in today’s world. We are challenging all participants to share the positive side of humanity. This month’s co-hosts: Eric Lahti, Inderpreet Uppal, Shilpa Garg, Sylvia Stein,and  Peter Nena, welcome participants and encourage all to join in during future months. #WATWB is a blog hop on the last Friday of every month. Click HERE to check out the intention and rules of the blogfest and feel free to sign up at any time between now and February of 2019.


  1. I agree with Quiall. We don’t spend enough time on ethics and morality these days…teaching children and reminding adults of their importance. Where I work, the ethics classes available have more to do with human interaction than being IT related. We’ve had to learn hard lessons, though, in appropriate use of the computers and the internet, and how ethics play a part. This is an interesting and good story for #WATWB. Thanks for sharing, Dan.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re correct, we don’t spend enough time. Ethics classes are still often electives, and the only training of this nature we get, is what’s mandated by law (and that’s usually anti-harassment training). We routinely see information being gathered that is not related to the transaction being processed. These are all things that need to be addressed.


  2. So much of that in the field of medicine with the advent of EMR systems. It can be mind boggling. We are being for d to utilize every aspect of it and many patients-myself included-have far reaching concerns. Education is the key to good decision making in all cases.
    What a beautiful cathedral. Reminds me of the Louisiana State Capitol building.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. In the late 1980’s, I built a case management system for the Minneapolis Police. No sooner had we brought it online than the police received a request from a weekly list of all burglaries and break-ins from a company that sold alarm systems.

    My reaction was, you got to be effing kidding me.

    Nope, we had to put aside all our investigative and crime analysis projects in order to help some slime-balls market alarms to people who just had their lives up ended.

    It brought to mind something the cops are always fond of saying, in the next world you get justice and ethics, in this one you get the law.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Ethics and technology – too often the answer seems ‘we have our best technicians working on how to abuse this’. The Experian Dark Web commercial is the most prevalent example. A company gets hacked and allows your personal data to be stolen and then tries to sell you a service to protect your data. Now there is a case of technology enhancing the meaning of the word ‘irony’ a hundred or a thousand times. At a personal level there is the case of a very prominent medical institution where patient medical data is HIPAA data is very important. Unless it was employee medical data. Then the institution could do what they want with it. Including use it to charge different rates based on your personal medical data. So much for it being private between you and your doctor. At the risk of being called a skeptic I will believe it when I see it. Yes there are signs of hope. And yes there are signs of rampant abuse by organizations claiming to have the highest of standards. And that includes Facebook and our elections.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Dan – I will definitely be following Tim Berners Lee’s new organisation … while in the UK we have the Open University – that has a full range of programmes available. It’s interesting how organisations are rethinking their ways of working … the Oxford Martin School that I posted for my August #WATWB article discusses ethics in the short 27 minute video … I came across a Cambridge School that was also bringing various disciplines together benefit from the interaction of leading brains.

    We live in interesting times and as you’re in forefront of business life – you’ll see it from the inside … I just tick along now learning as I go … blogging certainly opens doors … cheers Hilary

    Liked by 2 people

    • In most cases that I’m aware of, organizations are responding to pressure from their own employees. At least they are listening to someone. There are also colleges that are combining technology degrees with humanities and social sciences instead of just math. We may see some changes in the near future.


  6. “Right now, we have to be our own advocates. We have to protect our data. We have to ask questions and demand answers, and we have to learn more about the ways in which data is collected, used and how it can be protected.”
    I’m totally with you on this. Thanks for putting it so well.
    About medical ethics . . . there was an article in Nature some years back about a meeting scientists had on whether to edit the human genome or not. They couldn’t agree on why they shouldn’t do it. The UK gov’t already allowed editing of human genome to be carried out, collecting mitochondrial DNA from two mothers, etc.
    Thanks for the #WATWB post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Peter. Why we shouldn’t do something will always be the hard question. Once we do it, then there are a thousand questions – when do we do it? Who benefits? How much money can we make? Can we weaponize it? Etc.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Ethics in many professions and lives seems to be in short supply these days, much to my dismay and our general downfall. I’m glad to read that more classes/companies are attempting to deal with the lack, but ethics need to be personal to work at the corporate level. That’s an entirely different problem. The idea that there doesn’t seem to be right and wrong these days is a huge issue as well.


    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Janet. These things are in short supply and often are under fire. There are “good decisions” not being made to save a few cents on things like automobiles and major appliances. I think this has to come from the bottom up and from the top down.


  8. Interesting. I feel like while we may need to protect ourselves, the platforms have made it burdensome and what can you even use without agreeing to the terms? I feel more like prey.
    Never too young or low on the totem pole to use ethics, but writing policy or implementing change, yeah. There’s that, and greed, too.

    Liked by 1 person

    • “…and greed, too.” I think you nailed it. Collecting data because we can use it to help our customers is fine. Collecting data about our customers because we can sell it – that’s different thing. Collecting health data about our patients because we can sell it, is often and should always be illegal.

      It is extremely hard to ignore, or opt-out of terms that let them abuse the relationship. You can not use the service, but it’s becoming harder to find alternatives.

      Liked by 1 person

      • You have my full support against the selling of medical records. Even the policy of ‘accidentally forgetting to maintain the database by failing to delete old records’ is a frequent issue. If we can’t trust they’re deleted in a timely manner, how can we trust they’re not being sold?!?

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Good one. Even before I became a blogger I wrote a poem about Ethics on Sale. I have come a long way from what I was when I was 18. When I began my career, honesty and ethics became a challenge for me. They hired me for my honesty but they never liked me when I was honest to the customer I was speaking to. They wanted me to bend the rules, the same rules that they boast about when they talk highly of their company. It was a learning experience to read between the lines and understand that not everything the company writes in their vision and mission statement is what they follow. To some extent that has corrupt and rob me of the truthfulness in me, but I still manage to balance it out.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. This is one of those posts where the comments section is equally interesting and thought-provoking. I worked in data management for the last dozen years of my career including privacy and security. Thankfully the company I worked for had high ethical standards and I was proud of the standards we maintained.

    I was equally grateful that I was in a position to walk away when the leadership of the company changed and the concept of ethics became a little too loose for my liking. Not everyone is in a position to walk away from their job and unfortunately I don’t see a lot of companies walking the talk – unless there is a risk of public exposure.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. In the quote you gave, I didn’t see anything about the patient, which, in my opinion, should be the one and only major concern for social workers and other health professionals. I’m a starched believer in going to the patient for their opinions and input. So far, I have found that few medical professionals do this. This makes a huge difference as to what data is private and what data is share, even with other “professionals”.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I would agree that there has to be more interaction between the medical staff and the patients. I don’t have much hope for that, since a medical exam that goes beyond 15minutes is becoming rare. People need to understand what’s at stake, and they need to understand who those partners are. The company through whom my employer obtains health insurance (not the insurer, just a business group functioning as a broker) has set up a “wellness” program. They want me to join, and to share gobs of personal health information. One of their “partners” is Amazon. I have refused to sign into the program, but they remind me every week. The conditions of our agreement, and the limited way in which they allow you to opt-out, means that I can’t stop these emails without risking losing valuable information. I wish there were better options and I wish we didn’t have to fight for ourselves to get them.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’d say technology has gotten far enough along now that it’s dehumanizing our world as we know it. Maybe it’s time to pull the reigns taut on it while we still can.

        I used to work with insurances when I worked at a major hospital. I’ve also worked at the regional office of an insurance company doing the prorating. It seems weird and, well, wrong to have a business group acting as a go-between. A lot of bad things can happen that way.

        Liked by 1 person

  12. Ethics and technology need a much stronger relationship than what they have now. A great post — one that made me think — and your readers added quite a bit in the comments section. Thanks for the read, Dan!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. A crucial and complicated topic. When I worked as an addictions counselor, I had to take ethics every two years for recertification. Prescribers having access to all of a patient’s controlled substance prescription records has helped reduce abuse and hopefully addiction. Though I’m sure some people suffering from active addiction weren’t happy about it in the short run.

    Liked by 1 person

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