It is de rigueur for tech companies to brush ethical issues aside. They rarely offer frank insight on creating a human-focused tech world. Mozilla, however, recently published a guide to do just that, in which it offers candid advice to students on how to navigate an industry notorious for choosing profits over ethics, revenue over human lives.
A straightforward message — It's a document that speaks of ethical problems within and created by the tech industry, using a kind of forwardness rarely seen emanating from these companies. "The ethical issues facing the tech industry are abundant — military contracts, invasive data mining, biased algorithms, inhumane warehouse conditions, racist facial recognition software, and more," the document reads.
"Addressing ethical issues in tech can be overwhelming for students interested in working in tech. But change in the industry is not impossible. And it is, increasingly, necessary."
Worker organization gets a shout-out — For the most part, tech companies avoid discussing the history of worker mobilization in the industry. But Mozilla's document not only highlights this unmistakable form of political work, it shares an entire timeline on the subject. It paints an exhaustive picture starting in the 1960s when computer engineers gathered to oppose the Vietnam war.
It also discusses the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition in the 1990s, which rang the alarm on manufacturing leaks causing birth defects. There are also details about the tech workers demanding legal representation for migrant workers, unionizing efforts, plus coalitions between tech workers and contractors, janitors, guards, and cafeteria employees. In more recent examples, it discusses Google employees demanding their company distance itself from the Pentagon, how college students in tech and beyond protested Amazon's relationship with ICE, and Amazon employees demanding Jeff Bezos to seriously address climate change.
Mozilla's advice? — Tech insiders get real with students in the Mozilla guide. Among others, one advises that workers need to emphasize operational discipline and accountability metrics for unbiased AI. Another strongly advises that students should work in the public sector or nonprofits as private tech companies are more likely to care about profits, not humans. At the end of the guide, Mozilla shares multiple resources for students to get started.
While Mozilla's guide may not revolutionize how the tech industry works, it is still a refreshing break from the typical and oft-dystopic soundbites coming out of Silicon Valley.