The Ethics of Technology: Data, Screen Time & Hardware Sourcing
As technology takes up more and more of our time and lives, here at Lee London we have started to wonder about the impact this has on both our well-being and the ethics of our products. It is important to understand the ethics of sourcing our smart products, or online safety. Because ethical tech shouldn’t be the exception, but the rule. Here’s what we know and how to improve your own ethical tech practices.
SURVEILLANCE AND DATA COLLECTION
Our devices carry all sorts of information that is collected and (mostly) anonymously stored to keep us safe. However, there are exceptions. Some private companies, including enormous social media conglomerates like Twitter and Facebook, have access to your location, contacts, screen time, interests and real time data of all activity. This can affect some more than others. For example immigrants can face life and death situations because of law enforcement's ability to identify and track activity. Others, intensely affected by foul-implementation of data, include journalists and protestors involved (in mostly political or emergency situations) whose faces can be tracked in photo and video content. Extremist rallying-cries, incorrect or skewed information, and propaganda pushed at the right time to the right susceptible people, creates havoc amongst our news and leads to civil unrest or even war. These huge media companies know who, when, and what to target. They are indirectly or directly creating extremists all-across the globe. While these might sound scary here are some simple ways to reduce the amount of data an app can have access to.
Firstly, turning off location sharing services on your phone or taking the time to manually select who can view your location can help prevent unwanted onlookers from viewing information. Secondly, not allowing apps access to your contacts or limited access, this also helps those who are in your contacts to stay safer. Finally, not sharing passwords or log in information (especially in the financial world) with any company or person, especially those you cannot trust or are unsure of. And lastly, (we have to plug this) cover your camera. Data collectors and hackers are watching whether the little light is on or not. You have the right to privacy, so cover your webcam and control who is watching.
ADDICTION TO SCREEN TIME
Sure, some nights we need to send an email or two. Or we might want to watch Netflix shows to unwind. Scrolling through our Facebook or Apple news feeds after a long day at the office is common. However, unfortunately spending too much time on our devices can harm us negatively. Of course we won't get “TV brain”, as my mum used to say when I was younger and would want to watch television, but there are many risks to our wellbeing when we become addicted to technology.
Firstly, our relationships with those around us are affected. Our family, partners and friends cannot properly connect with us if we spend our time in our own “worlds” with our devices. Not having deep and meaningful connections with others can create a sense of isolation and lack of purpose. In the “analog” world, we all witnessed the complications of isolation through COVID-19. Quarantining has been so harmful to our mental health as people. We need that in person connection. But it’s a great example of how much we need person-to-person connection. Isolation and loneliness can be brought-on by spending the majority of our time in front of a screen rather than other people. I do encourage you to create time and space for those relationships. This can be having a dinner party, going for a walk or even gardening or working out together.
Technology is designed to be addictive, and it works. Games and notifications can help release dopamine in our reward centers of our brains, much like gambling, this motivates you to repeat a specific activity or behavior. Multiple studies have shown that social media platforms are linked to poor mental health. This is magnified in children, teens and young adults. So while you wont get TV brain or grow square eyes from having too much screen time, the deep and meaningful connections that could be at stake. The professional or career goals you may want to accomplish and the experiences you may want can be limited by the time we spend sitting in front of our screens.
Knowing the deep implications of foul-data usage, and addiction to our devices, we ask, is technology ethical? Our conclusion is that it is, but needs to be moderated. Less is more. Less data collection, means more privacy. Less screen time, means more interpersonal connection.
WHERE IS OUR TECH FROM?
While our products are usually designed by professionals living in richer areas of the world, and also sold to those markets, those who make these products are not usually part of this demographic. This production system allows us to purchase some tech at a cheaper price point but the cost is far greater on those who are exploited for their labour. Some research shows that child labour and poor conditions are not uncommon in the factory world of hard tech.
The mines used to collect minerals for common electronics often have poor conditions. Little or no working rights, little or no pay and work often completed by children - are all common factors in these facilities. In mines workers are often exposed to radioactivity, active explosives and minerals and dust that can be harmful to respiratory health. Because many of these mines are not inspected for safety, many of these places are unsupervised and unregulated where mine collapses are common. Because these mineral process sites are in more rural or industrial areas, even local consumers don't often see this side of the production process. Even more so, tourists and richer peoples who have more media access are unlikely to see the working conditions. Manufacturers are also another point in the process where exploitive practices are quite common. Again it is not unlikely to see children or overworked and underpaid workers in these factories with poor working conditions. Often many of these workers also do not have access to necessary safety equipment or training to deal with dangerous situations or specific production steps. And again, the working children are unable to attend school. This interferes with lifting the community up in critical areas where livelihood options are limited and education is hard to access.
You can help support these children and families by advocating for rights and education and supporting organizations such as UNICEF or Save the Children that help support the education of children in impoverished or underdeveloped countries. Another way is to research where your products are coming from, not just in tech but in any industry that might be exploiting workers or having them work in unsafe and unfair conditions, these industries include fashion, agriculture (coffee,Sugarcane, cotton etc and also some building materials such as bricks that are produced in countries like Brazil, Argentina, North Korea, Ecuador and Peru.)
Our hard tech is sourced from all over the world. Most of the pieces come from a single region in China, where conditions are often regulated. But raw materials are sourced from unregulated mines, and can be processed in unregulated manufacturing plants. Do we think this is ethical tech? No. Is the world starting wake up to these human-issues? Yes. At Lee London we’re taking a stance on where our materials are sourced. Check out our human rights and sustainability pages, along with additional sources below, for more information. Together, we can make tech ethical.