An Ethical Industry
February 19th, 2012
Last night I watched Bret Victor talk for an hour about finding your purpose which prompted me to write about something that's been on my mind for a while: ethics within our industry.
As DMCA, SOPA, PIPA, and ACTA have shown, our industry is a shining bastion of honestness and transparency compared to other media industries when centered on copyright but I feel we can do more. For example, collecting analytics. I'm aware of Mozilla fronting an effort to anonymise the web by telling advertisers and analytics software to not track users which is a great start in giving people choice. I'm not sure any other industry has the pervasive detail that we have access to: the location of the request, browser, language, etc. and it's important that we use that information with care. There was a tool that proved that you could be uniquely identified (or almost uniquely in some cases) simply from the details your browser exposes to the site. Just the concept of that is scary enough, let alone the actuality.
Another thing that's been bugging me is the industry's obsession with clients. The mindset of 'as long as I have a client and do my best then life will be good' I find irksome. You have a choice about who you work with and who you work for, and that is a profound choice to make. By choosing your clients by their ethics you start to shape what you want to be and I believe this guiding purpose is paramount in having a fulfilling life. This is all much easier said than done of course, saying no to someone is hard (especially when they're waving money at you) and takes courage (to paraphrase Ben Templeton) but ultimately it can help define who you are, as an individual or company.
Ethics are never a primary concern when working, as evidenced by Path and their Contacts fiasco, they never did it because they thought it would be unethical, only that they needed it to enable a feature to help users. It just illustrates the point that ethics get left at the wayside in a bid to push new features out. Yes users are really important, clients are really important, but so are the principles on which you base yourself and your work.
In truth, I love our industry, as I said before it's much more ethical than most other media industries (probably because of our origins in the 60s and relative youth) but I feel that ethics are often forgotten when we're waist-deep in a project. We need to step back and look at ourselves, "I started to look a little deeper into what I do. I started to ask what exactly it means to be a web designer […] Long may that feeling last. May it never go away." (from We, Who Are Web Designers, an article I highly recommend).