Technology is an omnipresent part of everyday life, as are decisions about the ethical and safe use of technology. When we decide whether to enable location services on a new app, set up two-factor authentication for a new service, or consider taking a carbon-free transportation alternative to our destination, we are working to improve the social impacts of technology. Along with our own decisions as users, a myriad of other stakeholders—including designers, developers, policymakers, and investors—also impact the technologies that they contribute to or regulate. Accordingly, while many small, everyday decisions can improve technologies’ social impact, on a broader level, it may seem difficult, overwhelming, or too complex to try to turn the tide of technology’s impact on privacy rights, our climate and environment, or human behaviour. Efforts to create “tech for good,” regulatory initiatives, public education, ethical investing, and other social and technical tools might all appear to be small, separate efforts, even though they all aim toward the same larger goal.
As such, while there are many highly specific guidelines, calls to action, and standards for improving technologies or practices, the field of ethical technology in Canada lacks a synthesis aimed at all parties, including the general public and the private and public sectors. Considering a vast array of technologies and topics (including artificial intelligence [AI], open data, labour and automation, and climate and environment) this paper identifies individuals and organizations working at the intersection of technology and social outcomes. Drawing from a series of in-depth interviews, it synthesizes shared considerations, challenges, frameworks, and best practices for improving the social impact of technology from a wide variety of perspectives.