Archive for the 'Ethics' Category
Thursday, April 20th, 2017
I grew up watching Fox News. I am reformed now, but there was a time when I thought the stances that were represented on that network aligned with my own belief system.
I remember a segment that they would do called “Culture Wars.” In the piece they would discuss an instance where conservative values were being infringed upon by the liberal left.
An example might be a town that once had a community nativity scene that the courts ruled was unlawful. Fox News would hype this up and explain how there was a war on Christmas and on conservatives.
Fast forward 15 years and it has become apparent that there is a culture war within the ranks of Fox News. Just this week Fox fired one of their top on air personalities, Bill O’Reily. He has been a presence on the network for years and continued to bring in top ratings for his time slot.
It has come to light that O’Reily and Fox paid more than $13 Million to several women to settle alleged sexual harassment charges.
As of right now I am not sure if the allegations are true or not but I will say this, the appearance of impropriety looms large.
Fox has been in the spotlight recently for sexually harassing women that worked there and promoting a culture of sexism. Most networks place attractive people on air, but even the most casual observer can see there is a certain level of skin on Fox News that is not present on other networks.
Before any of the charges came out I was actually amazed that they were so blatant with the way they sexualized the women on the shows as it seemed to detract from the story the women were presenting.
When we look at the specific case of Bill O’Reily I try to look at it from the context of the network as a whole. As a pivotal member of the organization he had a hand in setting the tone for the culture.
As the charges of sexism came to light for the network I thought it only a matter of time until specific charges were leveled at some of the men on air.
I have never worked at a TV network, but I find it hard to imagine that people didn’t talk.
Women who were put in uncomfortable situations would have surly spoken to their coworkers.
Men would have overheard things in locker rooms and elsewhere. The on air talent had to be acutely aware of the sexually charged atmosphere that was prevalent.
Why did it take this long for it to all come out? I guess an easy answer could be money.
In O’Reily’s case he gave money to women so they wouldn’t talk. In the case of on air talent being sexually harassed it may have been money and credibility.
As a man I cannot completely relate, but I have had female coworkers tell me that it’s tough to tell someone you felt harassed for fear that you will be labeled in a negative way.
If we trace it back to adolescence I am sure we all have memories of girls and guys who were put in compromising positions, but didn’t speak out for fear of being ostracized from the group.
Perhaps that is at work at Fox News as well.
My point to all of this is simple. O’Reily benefited from the loose culture of the network. Regardless of whether the allegations are true, he benefited from the fact that he kept silent about the mistreatment around him.
If we take it all the way and he is guilty of misconduct, he benefited from the belief that he would be protected as all of the other aggressors had been.
As a society what must we do to change this error? One way I see it is we must enable people to speak out without fear. That is much easier said than done.
We must also attach shame to actions that take advantage of others. We have gotten to a place where we are uncomfortable confronting others, but in this case we must.
I no longer watch Fox News, but the few times I see it in passing I think about the culture wars within. Ideally they would become transparent and learn from this. I have been alive for longer than two days though and strongly doubt that will be the outcome.
My lesson I have learned is I must be the change, I cannot wait on others to lead it.
Image credit: Politics USA
Tuesday, April 4th, 2017
It’s likely you are too young to have heard of a book called The Hidden Persuaders.
Originally published in 1957 and now back in print to celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, The Hidden Persuaders is Vance Packard’s pioneering and prescient work revealing how advertisers use psychological methods to tap into our unconscious desires in order to “persuade” us to buy the products they are selling.
A classic examination of how our thoughts and feelings are manipulated by business, media and politicians, The Hidden Persuaders was the first book to expose the hidden world of “motivation research,” the psychological technique that advertisers use to probe our minds in order to control our actions as consumers. Through analysis of products, political campaigns and television programs of the 1950s, Packard shows how the insidious manipulation practices that have come to dominate today’s corporate-driven world began.
It was considered highly unethical and, although there was no social media to spread the word, people were vocally upset enough that many companies stopped doing it.
Gone but not forgotten.
The behavioral social science behind Hidden Persuaders continued to grow and became a driving force underlying the deliberate addictiveness of video games.
60 years, continued research and a name change to “gamificaton” and it has become the basis of today’s management approach for gig economy companies like Uber.
Uber helps solve this fundamental problem by using psychological inducements and other techniques unearthed by social science to influence when, where and how long drivers work. It’s a quest for a perfectly efficient system: a balance between rider demand and driver supply at the lowest cost to passengers and the company.
Employing hundreds of social scientists and data scientists, Uber has experimented with video game techniques, graphics and noncash rewards of little value that can prod drivers into working longer and harder — and sometimes at hours and locations that are less lucrative for them.
Is it ethical to manipulate a workforce to produce more work at less cost to their non-employer?
Of course, Uber and “ethical action” seems an oxymoron, but psychological manipulation does appear to be on the uptick in many companies.
This article should be required reading for anyone who works in the “gig economy” or is thinking about doing so.
Hat tip to KG for pointing it out.
Image credit: Geoff Simon
Tuesday, March 14th, 2017
“We value/care about our employees” is one of the most hypocritical statements companies make these days.
(“Our customers are very important to us” is the other.)
The Republican-controlled Congress is pushing through a bill to give corporations the ability to intrude deeper and more personally into your life than ever before.
A little-noticed bill moving through Congress would allow companies to require employees to undergo genetic testing or risk paying a penalty of thousands of dollars, and would let employers see that genetic and other health information. (…) The new bill gets around that landmark law by stating explicitly that GINA and other protections do not apply when genetic tests are part of a ‘workplace wellness’ program.
This mean that, in the name of “wellness,” your boss will know if you were treated for an STD or that you are predisposed for alcoholism, Parkinson’s, cancer, or whatever.
Not only your boss, but the unregulated company that runs your company’s wellness program, but is not constrained by HIPPA rules.
Employers, especially large ones, generally hire outside companies to run them [wellness programs]. These companies are largely unregulated, and they are allowed to see genetic test results with employee names. (…) They sometimes sell the health information they collect from employees.
Can your company actually force you to comply?
No, but the penalty for refusing is costly in the form of higher insurance premiums and co-pays.
No health insurance at your company? You could still take a major financial hit.
If an employer has a wellness program but does sponsor health insurance, rather than increasing insurance premiums, the employer could dock the paychecks of workers who don’t participate.
In general, Corporate America’s attitude towards its employees reflects its attitude towards customers.
For the most part, that ranges from “general nuisance” to “necessary evil.”
And while the number of exceptions to that attitude, at least when it comes to customers, is growing, it doesn’t always apply to employees.
As the provisions of this long-desired bill prove.
That said, it will be a great recruiting tool for those companies that don’t do it.
Image credit: Daniel R. Blume
Tuesday, March 7th, 2017
Do you believe that Twitter was founded with effects like Arab Spring in mind? Or that Mark Zukerberg started Facebook for altruistic reasons? Or that Instagram, Snapchat and other similar sites actually have your wellbeing in mind?
If so, you probably also believe in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy.
The primary purpose of every one of these sites is simple: to make as much money as possible.
By using personalization to achieve behavioral addiction.
Infinite personalization comprises the artificial intelligence-driven, big-data based tools that allow algorithms to build a personalized Internet echo chamber customized just for you, designed to make you feel great. Infinite personalization feeds you the real, the fake, and everything in between, with the simple goal of holding your attention and getting you to come back for more. It is the process by which companies can measure, match, and predict consumers’ individual preferences with amazing accuracy and then tailor offerings to maximize revenue.
It’s done with full knowledge and, in my opinion, malice afore thought.
It’s why tech titans, starting with Steve Jobs in 2010, limit their kids, as I said a couple of years ago in The Hypocrites of Tech.
They want their kids to grow to positions of leadership and power and know they can’t if their world shrinks to a self-enhancing echo chamber that only regurgitates information that fits their preconceived ideas.
Personalization is active in the real world, too, and has been for several years, with young adults inventing ways to shrink their world by curating their college roommates and demanding “safe places.”
All I can say it ‘good luck’ when their carefully curated echo chamber has to function in the work-world.
However, it’s a sad and scary commentary that in the frenzy to make more and more money tech is providing a detailed roadmap, along with the supporting technology, for demagogs to become dictators.
For a more detailed look at behavioral addiction check out Adam Alter’s Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked
Image credit: Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com
Wednesday, March 1st, 2017
I received an email yesterday morning from the CEO of a well-known growth company. He wrote regarding yesterday’s post about cheating.
I asked why he wrote instead of leaving it as a comment.
He replied, I would rather avoid having it associated with me. If you want to write a post and have anonymous attribution, that’s fine.
It’s an important observation and one that is especially applicable now. I’m sharing it with no additional comments from me.
Anything I tried to add would be superfluous and detract from its importance.
When there are strong incentives to cheat and large negative consequences if one avoids cheating (since everyone is doing it), what should be the inducement for not cheating?
Where cheating is rewarded, truth and uprightness has potentially large negative consequences.
An organization or society built on fraud, trickery and deceit will eventually descend into chaos and anarchy.
Without leadership among both common people and the privileged, this is inexorable destiny.
Whenever there is a trend toward something, there are significant costs associated with changing the trajectory.
Who can or should be willing to bear these costs?
Image credit: Abi Skipp
Tuesday, February 28th, 2017
What do Hampton Creek, Theranos, Zenefits, Lending Club, WrkRiot, ScoreBig, Rothenberg Ventures have in common?
They all channeled the “fake it ‘til you make it” ethos of Silicon Valley.
Only they didn’t make it.
Previous well-known cheats include MiniScribe, WorldCom and Enron and they’re only the tip of the iceberg.
Cheating is the getting of a reward for ability or finding an easy way out of an unpleasant situation by dishonest means. It is generally used for the breaking of rules to gain unfair advantage in a competitive situation. — Wikipedia
Yesterday’s post focused on the prevalence of cheating at all school levels and its acceptance as a laissez-faire, “everyone does it” attitude.
Of course, cheating isn’t new, but the more ubiquitous it’s become the more it’s been shrugged off.
And it’s this cheating mindset that has shaped Silicon Valley over the last decade or so.
Along with faking it is the “do whatever it takes to win” form of cheating as exemplified by Uber’s Travis Kalanick.
Cheating on ideas, such as meritocracy and fairness, has certainly contributed to the rise of the bro culture, also exemplified by Uber and recently documented by Susan Fowler. However, as Uber engineer Aimee Lucido points out, Uber is far from being alone.
It does seem that a large percentage of the egos that drive, and aspire to drive, innovation, along with the egos that fund that drive, have lost touch with the society they claim to serve and, instead, bought into an attitude espoused by Donald Trump.
“And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.”
We would be better off if they would channel Sophocles, instead.
Image credit: Sean MacEntee
Monday, February 27th, 2017
It’s amazing to me, but looking back over more than a Feb decade of writing I find posts that still impress, with information that is as useful now as when it was written.
Golden Oldies are a collection of what I consider some of the best posts during that time.
When I wrote this post in 2009 one of the things I wondered was this. If 95% of students felt it was OK to cheat (not a new attitude) to get what they wanted in school would they see cheating and other similar actions/attitudes as acceptable in the grownup world of work?
While eight years isn’t all that long, we’re already seeing the answer and it’s not pretty. As usual, Silicon Valley is leading the way and, sadly, it will probably get a lot worse before it gets any better
Read other Golden Oldies here.
According to Donald McCabe, a professor of management and global business at Rutgers University, “95 percent of high school students say they’ve cheated during the course of their education, ranging from letting somebody copy their homework to test-cheating. There’s a fair amount of cheating going on, and students aren’t all that concerned about it.”
“The professor has been surveying cheating practices among college kids for 18 years and high school students for six years. He says he’s surveyed 24,000 high school students in 70,000 high schools, grades 9 to 12. His findings? Sixty-four percent of students report one or more instances of serious testing-cheating, which include copying from someone else, helping someone else cheat on a test, or using crib notes or cheat notes.
In 2002 17-year-old Alice Newhall was quoted in a CNN article on cheating, “What’s important is getting ahead. The better grades you have, the better school you get into, the better you’re going to do in life. And if you learn to cut corners to do that, you’re going to be saving yourself time and energy. In the real world, that’s what’s going to be going on. The better you do, that’s what shows. It’s not how moral you were in getting there.“”
Colleges are no different, with MBA students leading the pack. “56 percent of MBA students admitted to cheating… In 1997, McCabe did a survey in which 84 percent of undergraduate business students admitted cheating versus 72 percent of engineering students and 66 percent of all students. In a 1964 survey by Columbia University, 66 percent of business students surveyed at 99 campuses said they cheated at least once.”
MBAs lead another pack; see if these names sound familiar: Jeff Skilling (MBA, Harvard). Joe Nacchio, (MBA, NYU), Richard Fuld, (MBA, Stern), John Thain, (MBA, Harvard), the list goes on and on.
Do you see a pattern here?
- It’s OK to cheat in high school to get good grades to gain entrance to a good college;
- it’s OK to cheat in college to gain entrance to a top grad school; and
- it’s OK to cheat in grad school to insure access to a good job, especially on Wall Street; so
- it must be OK once you’re working to cheat to improve your company’s bottom line.
Cheating is good business in its own right directly or in the sub-strata of plagiarism.
Google offers 1,620,000 results for “how to cheat in school,” 605,000 for “how to cheat on a test” and another 562,000 for “how to cheat on tests,” not to mention the more than 3,000 “how to cheat” videos on YouTube.
Meanwhile, on the plagiarism front, “school papers” returns a whopping 22,600,000 results.
Take a good look at the numbers and you’ll see that religion, spirituality and cheating seem to happily co-exist.
“The University of California at Los Angeles’s Higher Education Research Institute reported that 80 percent of students show high degrees of religious commitment and spirituality. The new data comes from a survey conducted this past year involving 112,232 first year students attending 236 various colleges and universities.”
All the ethics courses, integrity lectures and moral preaching that go on aren’t likely to change decades of successful cheating—mainly because it works getting people where they want to go.
Cheating isn’t new, but the casual acceptance of it as a viable life strategy has radically changed.
So what do we do now?
Image credit: Jhayne
Friday, February 24th, 2017
A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here.
Most of the tech/business/news-consuming world has been hearing about Uber’s latest, but doubtfully its last, scandal.
Uber showcases a culture where anything goes: sexual harassment; managerial threats, including physical violence.
A culture based on the overweening arrogance and MAP of CEO Travis Kalanick and fully supported by his top management and a subservient/ineffective/actively resistant HR.
So Kalanick did what all CEOs (and politicians) do when someone shines a light in their rat hole — he announced an internal investigation led by external, high profile lawyers and made promises at an all-hands meeting.
“What I can promise you is that I will get better every day. I can tell you that I am authentically and fully dedicated to getting to the bottom of this.”
This from the guy who two short years ago called his company “Boob-er” in GQ, because it was a chick magnet.
There’s an old joke that you should never trust anyone who says “trust me.”
The same can be said about the person who proclaims their authenticity.
Image credit: HikingArtist
Thursday, December 15th, 2016
In case you didn’t see this in BuzzFeed, a group of techs got together and made a pledge.
A group of nearly 60 employees at major tech companies have signed a pledge refusing to help build a Muslim registry. The pledge states that signatories will advocate within their companies to minimize collection and retention of data that could enable ethnic or religious targeting under the Trump administration, to fight any unethical or illegal misuse of data, and to resign from their positions rather than comply.
Not luminaries, but people like you.
As of 10:30 pm Pacific Wednesday there were 1215 signatures.
The full text is at the pledge link (above) as are the instructions on how you can sign. There are also links if you want to be a more active participant or just want more information.
Why should you do it?
The words of Martin Niemöller, a prominent Protestant pastor and rabid anti-Nazi, who spent seven years in a concentration camp explain it best.
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
Actively or passively; loudly or quietly you need to speak out over the next two years.
And in two years it will be up to you to help take back Congress.
Image credit: Karen
Tuesday, December 13th, 2016
Edward Snowden’s revelations made people hyper-conscious of government snooping, while the proliferation of mobile and connected devices has made snooping easier, not to mention very profitable.
And profit is what’s behind the rise of global cyber-arms dealers that sell human suffering and death as surely as their real-world counterparts sell weapons.
Last summer, Bill Marczak stumbled across a program that could spy on your iPhone’s contact list and messages—and even record your calls. Illuminating shadowy firms that sell spyware to corrupt governments across the globe, Marczak’s story reveals the new arena of cyber-warfare.
Marczak’s stumble revealed three zero-day exploits (“Zero days” refers to the amount of time—i.e., none—a target has to fix an entirely new kind of hack before damage can be done.).
It’s called a jailbreak and the ability to do it remotely is every hacker’s dream.
… the ability to hack remotely into the digital brains of the world’s most popular hardware—the desktops, laptops, tablets, and especially the mobile phones made by Apple. And not just break into Apple devices but actually take control of them. It was a hacker’s dream: the ability to monitor a user’s communications in real time and also to turn on his microphone and record his conversations.
In a superhuman effort, Apple patched all three exploits in just 10 days.
It’s an uplifting story, but the fact is Apple and other computer-makers are fighting a losing battle. As long as there are hackers, they will continue to find ways to hack any device that interfaces with them. These dangers were highlighted this fall when a New England company found itself the target of a mass denial-of-service attack from millions of non-computer “zombie devices” connected to the Internet—most notably baby monitors.
“What these cyber-arms dealers have done is democratize digital surveillance,” says the A.C.L.U.’s Chris Soghoian. “The surveillance tools once only used by big governments are now available to anyone with a couple hundred grand to spend.” In fact, they may be coming to your iPhone sometime soon.
Hat tip to KG for sharing the Vanity Fair article about Marczak.
Flickr image credit: Pimkie
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