How IT employees can lead the way in tech ethics and abuse prevention

Mozilla's 2019 Internet Health Report shines a light on the importance of activism to make the web a safer environment for all.

Google's Digital Wellbeing: An important tool for limiting your screen time

Studying and understanding social issues related to--or emanating from--widespread adoption of the internet is vital, as over 50% of people worldwide are now online, a threshold passed earlier this year. Mozilla's 2019 Internet Health Report, released Wednesday, aims to understand and explain phenomena on the internet that are prompting anxiety from end users, developers, and technologists.

The wide-ranging report covers a variety of social issues with the use of technology, including privacy concerns in the wake of the Facebook data privacy scandal and GDPR compliance and enforcement, controversy around the use of artificial intelligence (AI), and questions about the consolidation of control over the internet within "big tech" companies. At the same time, internet censorship is increasing, and biometrics are being abused. Here's a few key takeaways from the report.

SEE: Policy pack: Workplace ethics (Tech Pro Research)

Employees of "big tech" firms demanding tech conduct policies

The sale of technology services in general--not just AI--to organizations with a mission which IT professionals find objectionable has become a flashpoint in the industry, with Microsoft employees demanding the company stop sales to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) following controversy surrounding the organization separating immigrant families. Likewise, employees are objecting to the use of HoloLens for military purposes. Google has also come under fire by employees for their sale of AI to the military, and plans to offer a censored search engine for the Chinese market.

In response, tech industry employees have the potential to wield their collective power and demand a clear and upfront explanation of how their work will be used and marketed, with 2019 marking the continued rise of worker influence.

Biometrics are being abused by governments and private groups

Government and company-created ID systems using biometric identifiers, such as fingerprints or DNA samples, are prone to errors. Despite the pretense of unique biometric identifiers as being infallible, the systems that store and process them are prone to developer mistakes and administrative abuse, and are high-value targets for hackers aiming to execute identity theft on a massive scale.

The report lists 23 reasons not to reveal your DNA to tech companies, including:

  • Your data could be hacked, leaked or breached
  • You may be discriminated against in the future
  • Anonymous sperm and egg donors could become a thing of the past
  • You will jeopardize the anonymity of family members
  • Racists are weaponizing the results
  • Heritage tests are less precise if you don't have European roots

Similarly, FamilyTreeDNA has come under fire for providing access to their database to the FBI without disclosing this in their privacy policy. The company doubled down in advertisements airing in California, stating that "If you are one of the millions of people that have participated in a home DNA test, your help can provide the missing link," by providing your DNA to law enforcement.

SEE: The open-plan workspace: Pros and cons (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Ransomware payments line the pockets of criminals

Ransomware provides a direct path from package development to profit for cybercriminals, compared to the relatively manual labor of basic identity theft. The growth of ransomware can be attributed to the ease of deployment and a high rate of return relative to the amount of effort put forth.

While it can be enticing for users with cash on hand to simply pay the ransom to regain access to their files, not all ransomware packages actually allow for decryption of files, and doing so only further encourages hackers.

Further, the No More Ransom project--a collaboration between Europol, the Dutch National Police, McAfee, and others--provides ransomware victims infection with decryption tools to remove ransomware for more than eighty variants of widespread ransomware types.

For more about issues affecting the health of the internet, learn about how AI can be used to remove bias in business, and how to make AI ethics a priority at your company: 5 tips.

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Image: Mozilla