Human Rights Risks in the Technology Sector

I found this excellent summary from the BSR (Business for Social Responsibility), on the top human rights priorities for the technology sector. The section of this report that I really liked was the section on the current risks that this sector is facing. I thought I would pick out the risks that sparked my interest the most and briefly comment upon them.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Big Data Analytics

Artificial intelligence honestly terrifies me. The idea that the technology exists to learn the most intimate details of our lives, through devices we use every day baffles me. I don’t understand how everyone can be so blase about it. (I am a hypocrite of course, as I regularly use apps that use algorithms to learn about me and what I am interested in.) But I don’t understand how people don’t seem to think about how dangerous this technology could be if it gets into the wrong hands. One of the risks of AI that BSR highlighted is automated systems making discriminatory decisions. After all, AI learns from us, and there is so much racist, sexist, homophobic speech out there. And again, if the wrong people use this technology, they can use this to their advantage to profile the people using their services.

Internet of Things

I had to do some outside research on this as I wasn’t entirely familiar with the term. As I now understand it, the internet of things is the networking of everyday objects, such as smart phones, smart toasters (yes they exist), or anything else with an internet connection. All of these objects communicate with one another and collect data and information for the ‘benefit’ of their users. Much like AI, this sort of thing also terrifies me. People are so quick to just accept technology into their households, we’ve seen this in the rise of users of virtual assistants such as Amazon Alexa and Google Home. As pointed out in the BSR report, the risks include gaining consent from their users. When someone purchases an Amazon Alexa, where is the waver they have to sign that gives Amazon the right to listen in on conversations and use that data to paint a picture of who you are?

Hate Speech and Countering Violent Extremism

This topic makes me feel very conflicted. As much as I can see how hate speech online can be incredibly detrimental to people’s lives, the idea of censorship is worrying. Drawing the line between policing genuinely hateful personal attacks and people’s opinions and useful discussions that progress society is very difficult. Again, if this kind of censorship power gets into the wrong hands, I fear our freedom of speech could be impaired.

There are plenty of other topics covered in this report, and makes extremely interesting reading. Ever since my post on the right to privacy I have been thinking about these topics a lot. I’ve also discovered a new organisation that I wasn’t previously aware of that may help me further my exploration of business and human rights issues.

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