Unit 2b: Ethics of Technology

Henderson’s Shooting Star
(Dodecatheon hendersonii)

One of China’s (and Singapore’s and Israel’s) weapons in beating back Covid-19 has been location-tracking of its citizens via mobile phones. Of course, this raises ethical questions about privacy and the social contract, as well as the use of technology to make lives easier or solve problems. One major tech influencer has claimed that we are now living in a “novel economy,” defined by disruption, that leaves us even more dependent on computers and the internet for our livelihoods. It’s hard to disagree with this right now, whether we’re quarantined at home or trying to stay safe in public.

On the topic of the ultra-rich and technology and ethics, consider this article, written last summer, before the pandemic, when the topic du jour was global warming (remember that?). All those guys wanted to do…was escape from the very worlds they’d helped create.

Lecture Slides w/ Voice Annotations

Supplementary Readings

COVID-19 Phone Location Tracking: Yes, It’s Happening Now–Here’s What You Should Know, Forbes, March 27, 2020. Overview of the different levels of surveillance available for deployment on your mobile phone, right now.

When Your Phone Says You’ve Been Exposed to the Coronavirus, New York Times, April 21, 2020. Is that such a bad thing?

Pew Research Center Survey Results: Most Americans don’t think cellphone tracking will help limit COVID-19, are divided on whether it’s acceptable, April 16, 2020. Interesting results–divisions by race, education, age and political affiliation. Americans do like their privacy.

Why Singapore’s Admired Virus Playbook Can’t Be Replicated, Reuters, February 19, 2020. They’re smaller, they lived through SARS, they’re rich & they don’t mind a little authoritarianism…

Cybersecurity Experts Come Together to Fight Coronavirus-Based Hacking, World Economic Forum, March 27, 2020. Hackers vs. hackers!

Reddit links to illegally downloaded and disseminated research articles on Covid-19. This “Robin Hood”-style effort to tear down the paywalls in medical research resulted in most research databases making the articles free of charge, after all.

Chaos Computer Club’s 10 Requirements for the Evaluation of Contact-Tracing Apps. German privacy and security-focused techie group (it’s been around since 1981!) offers a sophisticated set of principles to weigh before implementing any phone surveillance apps.

How Open-Source Software is Tackling Covid-19, ZDNet, March 17, 2020. Older article, but with links to some breathtaking crowdsourced data sites.

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