Where is the line drawn when it comes to app ethics? How can developers determine whether or not an app is ethical when it is created? Should some apps (no matter how clever an idea) just not be created - or should they be illegal until ethical problems are fixed?
There are many muddled lines when it comes to app development. This is mostly due to the fact that apps are (as much as they appear not to be) still relatively new. There’s no code of ethics, per se. A delegation that prevents apps that may be damaging to real lives from being developed does not exist. But should it?
A Therapy App That Harms
A recent article on the website The Verge discusses the problem with a popular therapy app called Talkspace. According to an anonymous therapist that worked for the company as a contractor (or employee - that line is often muddled when it comes to apps as well), the app founders ask therapists to forego ethics in order to make clients happy.
The app is anonymous from the start (therapists only know clients by usernames and not full names or locations), which makes it hard for a therapist to report something alarming. By law, therapists must report any client that plans on harming themselves, harming others, or may currently be harming someone else.
But this kind of reporting is hard to do when clients don’t have names or addresses or any real contact information. Talkspace does tell the therapists that work with the company to try and find contact details through IP addresses and other means when necessary - but when is it necessary? That’s where the line becomes blurred.
Ethical App Development
The app process works something like this. An entrepreneur has an idea for an app, they hire an app development company (or have app developers in house), the app comes to fruition after months of development, and then that app enters an app store. In the case of Talkspace, app founders hire contractors to work for the app company.
Often, app companies do not call those contractors ‘employees’ in order to avoid any legal repercussions that might result. This is another issue. App companies should claim responsibility for anyone that is hired through the company - regardless of whether or not that person is a contractor. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
Presently, there are no real rules for app development when it comes to ethics. This can be detrimental to real lives - as is the case when it comes to Talkspace. As long as companies are able to develop apps without any real lines drawn, and hire people as contractors in order to skirt responsibility, people will experience the backlash.
There should be some kind of regulation when it comes to app development. Someone to say something about app ethics. It’s a blurry line that puts lives at risk, often. While I’m all for business and freedom within business, companies must abide by ethics of some sort. That’s my take. What’s yours?