Indian companies must consider a “digital ethics framework” in order to ensure a holistic view of ethics, and govern the digitalisation journey of their business, a paper by Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu India LLP (DTTILLP) and Bangalore Chamber of Commerce (BCIC) said.
An accelerated pace of digital transition, consumption of goods and services via app-based interface, and proliferation of data bring numerous risks such as biased decision-making processes being transferred to machines or algorithms. These biases can be a threat to the reputation and trust towards stakeholders, as well as cause operational risks.
Explaining ethical grey areas with an example, the paper "Digital Ethics: Ethical ‘now’ for a resilient ‘next’," points to cab aggregator services. While user behaviour and travel patterns are recorded for a better user experience, of late it has been observed that such profiling is done only to ensure that more is extracted out of the customer, especially if the profile shows that he or she is not averse to using cabs with a higher charge. Therefore, even if a cheaper option is available it would not be available to the user, as he or she has already shown his or her preference for using higher value cabs.
In order to avoid such grey areas, organisations would need a moral code of conduct within their digital policies to address the areas of concern and develop a fine balance to ensure that boundaries are clearly laid out.
The paper highlights five steps for ensuring digital ethics are followed- formation of a committee or a cross functional team with business, technology, and community experts collaborating to address all ethical concerns, a draft policy on digital ethics within organisations, ensuring adherence that all digital projects must be covered and assessed from the digital ethics perspective, mphasise and make ethics an important part of the digital governance of all projects, and education on the need for the right ethics.
“The pandemic compelled businesses and consumers to embrace digital technologies like artificial intelligence, big data, cloud, IoT and more in a big way. However, the need of the hour is to relook at the business operations layered on digital touchpoints with the lens of ethics, given biases might arise in the due course, owing to a faster response time to an issue," said Vishal Jain, Partner, Deloitte India.
Societal pressure to do “the right thing” now needs a careful consideration of the trade-offs involved in the responsible usage of technology. Its interplay becomes vital to managing data privacy rights while actively adopting customer analytics for personalised service, he added.
Jain said that the discussion on digital ethics is yet to become mainstream, but the recent steps by the government, like the recent social media rules, are a step in the right direction, for formulating policies on digital ethics. He also said that since this was an evolving subject, organisations should look at making digital ethics a part of their culture and thought process at every job role, instead of creating a new role that caters to digital ethics.
Manas Dasgupta, Chair of Young BCIC Expert Committee said, "Tech is advancing at a neck-break speed. In fact, it is getting ahead of us so fast that we are grappling to assess the true abilities and what prudential norms are to be applied. Certain areas related to possible misuses of technologies such as privacy and security are fairly well-regulated both from legal as well as corporate governance aspects. However, inadvertent fallouts of technologies like autonomous machines that use AI / Robotics, etc. are yet to be fully understood. It is the need of the hour that the Industries start meaningful conversations and note sharing around good governance on these technologies and ensure that we are within our limits to stay fair to everyone in the society, remain transparent and responsible in our digital endeavors."