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The Digital Ethics Compass:

Avoid manipulating

Get smarter – what is it?

Often, digital solutions are designed to help people by making decisions on their behalf. But beware that this help does not undermine people’s very basic urge to decide over their own lives and take extra care to ensure that your digital solution does not end up manipulating people in a harmful way.

An example

You are selling cycling clothes online, and now you have designed a well-thought-out Facebook campaign targeting people who are interested in cycling. If they have visited your website, you use retargeting to hit them continuously with targeted messages on Facebook. You can see from your statistics that your new targeted Facebook campaign is 77% more effective than a regular campaign.

All your competitors do the same thing, but you ask yourself if it’s okay to use data, behavioral design, and algorithms to manipulate so many people’s buying behavior.

Make your technology understandable

Get smarter – what is it?

Digital solutions are often complex and difficult for ordinary people to understand. But that’s why you still have a responsibility to make your digital solutions understandable and transparent to let users comprehend how the solutions work and affect their lives.

An example

Your lawyers have asked you to post a 30-page “terms and conditions” document on your website. All users must approve the terms and conditions to be allowed to use your website. But you can see that the legal text is challenging for your users to understand, so you work with the lawyers to cut the 30 pages down to five pages in understandable language. But you soon find out that your users do not read these five pages either. What will you do?

You can avoid many legal issues by collecting and exchanging less data (which you did not need anyway). You, therefore, end up simplifying your solution, which leads to better conversion rates. Additionally, you should strive to explain the consequences of users’ choices in the interaction design itself, instead of hiding the explanations away in a cryptic document that users never read anyway.

Avoid creating inequality

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Digital design without thought for ethics can often end up perpetuating and reinforcing existing inequalities in society. Always think about designing solutions that do not create more imbalances.

An example

You are in the process of designing a new digital insurance product, where the insurance company can track the quality of their customers’ driving behavior. If customers drive well and carefully, the premium will automatically be lower. 80% of all Danes think that they drive a car better than average, so your product will naturally become popular very quickly.

But have you considered the consequences for those who are bad at driving and suddenly get very high premiums? And are you sure that your algorithm is good enough to distinguish bad drivers from good ones? And have you considered the societal consequences of more and more insurance products becoming so specific that the collective element of insurance is starting to disappear?

Give users control

Get smarter – what is it?

Digital solutions may well help people and make their lives easier, but they must not leave people with a sense of losing control. Always make sure to design solutions that give people more and not less control.

An example

You are in the process of developing a GPS for cycling, where exercise cyclists can plan their trips and ride their bicycles along different routes. You are designing a user-friendly interface where cyclists are only told when to turn right or left. It’s easy, and even people who are bad at reading maps can figure it out.

But user tests show that people quickly turn off their brains and lose track of the landscape they are in. If the GPS runs out of battery, they are lost and have no idea where they are. Therefore, you change your solution a little by showing a map that always faces north. It’s a bit more complex, but you can quickly see that cyclists are happier with the overall experience because they feel they are in control of their bike ride.

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