Avoiding Ethical Issues in Software Development

Ethical Issues in Software Development: Balancing Technical and Moral Responsibility

What are the common ethical issues in software development? Let’s discuss the best approaches to handling difficult situations in the field.  

The software industry is one of the biggest markets to date, amassing over $200 billion in revenue. And tech companies are continuously investing in their research and development to create more products and services. With several development projects on the way, the demand for software developers is drastically increasing.

Today, software developers are some of the highest-paid professionals in the US. But with such high demand comes a heavy weight of responsibilities. Clients can easily get carried away with their vision for their project that they unknowingly cross ethical boundaries. And as the expert, it is your duty to ensure the best and ethically sound practice in development.

Let’s break down the ethical issues in software development you may encounter and how you should handle them.

How to Approach Ethical Issues in Software Development

Software developers have the obligation to maintain and protect honest and ethical practices. Despite the shifting trends in technology, experts have to value the consumer’s rights above all. Nonetheless, it can still be difficult to determine the right conduct when the situation arises. Here are some of the common ethical issues in software development most developers face.   

1. Unethical data collection

With the shift to digital marketing, companies are exponentially valuing user data. It’s an important source to use in development. However, it’s easy to get carried away in the act of acquiring it. Customers have to be fully aware of what information they’re sharing and how it’s going to be used.

Software developers face a difficult choice regarding personal data. They have two options: develop systems that possibly abuse user data or voice concerns despite going against the project’s objectives.

The best-case scenario is you should be free to voice worries about personal data ownership. If the use case violates privacy, legal, or ethical standards, the organization should investigate further and determine this on its own.

2. Algorithmic bias

Computers cannot understand morality as a concept. When it is not thoroughly checked, its systems can unintentionally show bias. For instance, when it was discovered that Google’s image processing engine couldn’t adequately reflect black and brown skin tones in images, the company came under fire for allegedly fostering systematic racism.

Software developers must deliberate potential biases in developing their products. By studying social norms and analyzing their current data, they can prevent wrong assumptions in the collection and use of information.

On the client’s end, they can prevent these mishaps by fostering a culture that encourages employees to speak up if they think a software feature is inappropriate. Being critical of the product helps address algorithmic prejudice.

3. Weak security

The software industry is prone to security issues. Developers need further education to learn and implement proper security practices. However, these kinds of training are often limited to cybersecurity-specific seminars.

Software experts have to take the initiative in learning security protocols. Fortunately, there are now plenty of development resources to strengthen one’s skills and knowledge about cybersecurity. As a software developer, it is your duty to implement and update your project with standardized security.

Depending on the type of website or application you’re developing, there are now protection guidelines you can refer to. For example, if you’re developing a health application, you can refer to the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA).

4. Wrong Priorities

A lot of software engineering teams devote too much time to creating new features and improving the functionality of their products. However, they typically make the mistake of neglecting to customize and improve the existing functions. Unfortunately, in these situations, ethics frequently take a backseat. This may result in some ethical issues in software development.

Businesses need to set the standard for the caliber of their goods and services. They have to make an effort to reflect these goals throughout the lifecycle of software. Sometimes it’s not about the quantity of new features you add to the product, rather, it’s the quality of its current performance.

Software Developer Ethics: Avoiding Ethical Issues in Software Development

Ethical Software Development
Ethical Issues in Software Development: Balancing Technical and Moral Responsibility 1

1. Be proactive

While you work honestly when writing code, there’s no telling where it can lead to. The client and your team can easily veer away from the original purpose of your project. Throughout the process of development, think of the potential threats and misconduct that can happen. As a software engineer, you must assess the current technology you’re developing and take proactive measures to address any potential abuse and other ethical issues in software development.

2. Be honest

Falsely advertising features or exaggerating the performance quality is unethical. Be straightforward and truthful while describing your goods. Inform the audience if the vision changes. Inform stakeholders as soon as there are updates or modifications to the software. To ensure that the product will be utilized as intended, create policies with the help of other teams inside your organization.

3. Be accountable

You should strive to improve the integrity and reputation of the profession as a software engineer. For instance, you should avoid making false claims regarding your application that could be deceptive or misleading. Make sure you keep your employer, clients, customers, and other stakeholders in the loop by reporting software issues and other potential ethical issues in software development.

4. Be a responsible citizen 

Software developers have this opportunity to build a product that will either benefit users or hurt them. Prioritize your responsibilities as a good citizen over your reputation as an expert. Only work on projects that you believe are secure, comply with specifications, and can withstand mandatory testing. By offering your expert technical services to worthy causes, you act responsibly as a citizen.

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