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Why We Invest in Ethics by Design

Creating technology users want to interact with every day while minimizing any potential negative effects requires certain considerations.

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According to Salesforce’s Ethical Leadership and Business Report, 90% of consumers believe companies have a responsibility to improve the state of the world, and 86% of consumers are more loyal to ethical companies. Every day, the tech industry is facing complex questions from employees, customers, community members, and the media who have real concerns around privacy, mass surveillance, biased AI, and more. These concerns have serious implications for business.

The research shows values create value. So, what can tech companies do to mitigate ethical risks and build trusted relationships with their customers and users? That’s where Ethics by Design comes in.

What is Ethics by Design?

We define Ethics by Design as the intentional embedding of ethical and humane use principles into the process of designing, developing, and delivering our software and services. In practice, this means empowering employees to apply ethical use principles — such as human rights, privacy, safety, honesty, and inclusion — in their day-to-day work.

The goal is to ultimately maximize the positive impacts of tech and minimize any potential negative effects on society.

We first began by looking at examples from history: examples we could learn from in order to move forward, like the advent of the technology security industry and advancements in tech accessibility. More recently, we see thought leadership coming from academia, civil society, and other multi-stakeholder groups that guide tech companies on best practices, like the EthicalOS toolkit. These resources are critical in sparking conversation around the need to build ethics into tech products. The goal is to ultimately maximize the positive impacts of tech and minimize any potential negative effects on society.

What does Ethics by Design look like in practice?

We believe that our responsibility as technologists is to leverage our platform to make a positive impact on society. Truly ethical design can elevate the voices of communities that have been traditionally marginalized or underrepresented, provide value add for customers, and influence positive social change.

In pushing people to create technology that is a force for good, it is essential to empower our engineering and product teams to consider the impact of what they create.

Salesforce’s Office of Ethical and Humane Use was established with the mandate to ensure that our technology was used to help, not harm, society, and to uphold the basic human rights of every human being. In pushing people to create technology that is a force for good, it is essential to empower our engineering and product teams to consider the impact of what they create. In that spirit, we set out to equip internal teams with the tools they need to ensure the responsible design, development, and use of our technologies.

As a result, many Salesforce technology solutions already have features that differentiate them through Ethics by Design.

  1. Trusted artificial intelligence (AI). We believe the benefits of AI should be safe, inclusive, and accessible to everyone. One example of how we do this is through Model Cards, which communicate how our models work, including ethical considerations in their use.
  2. Inclusive product language. To ensure an inclusive approach to our products, we empower our engineering and product teams to consider the impact of the content and code they create. To start, we replaced non-inclusive technical language with more appropriate terms such as “block- and allow-lists.”
  3. Pandemic response technology. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to light privacy and ethical use considerations when it comes to tech solutions that deal with personal health data. We share five ethical use and privacy principles for consideration when developing technology in a time of crisis.

In order to create a space for ethical consideration and dialogue within product teams, we leverage Consequence Scanning, a methodology developed by DotEveryone. This process allows teams to consider the unintended consequences of the products and features they are developing. We’ve created a guide that distills the Consequence Scanning framework, including insights and slight tweaks we’ve learned through applying it, in the hopes this will empower others to hold their own workshops.

How can I get started on this journey?

Increasingly, we hear customers, partners, and community members ask how they can get started in ensuring their products and services are ethical by design. To that end, we are excited to announce we have published our Ethics by Design principles and best practices on Trailhead, our free online self-learning platform, to share our learnings with the broader Salesforce community. 

These are complex, human issues, and the prize is a culture in which everyone feels empowered to build with ethics in mind and contribute to responsible innovation.

These are complex, human issues, and the prize is a culture in which everyone feels empowered to build with ethics in mind and contribute to responsible innovation. We recognize this is only the beginning, and while we don’t have all the answers, we are committed to learning and evolving together. Let’s get started today, take the module: sfdc.co/EthicsbyDesign.

Learn more about the Office of Ethical and Humane use at Salesforce.com/EthicalandHumaneUse.

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