Tech companies appointing Chief Ethics Officers

January 21, 2019

The result of the ongoing slew of negative news stories around the poor behaviour of tech giants – such as Facebook’s privacy breaches, Uber’s safety concerns and employment tribunals as well as Deliveroo’s subversion of planning laws and food safety – is that the tech sector is facing a crisis of trust.

It makes the news in Dec 2018 that Salesforce, one of the world’s top CRM software providers, is hiring its first Chief Ethical and Humane Use Officer of particular note.  Tasked with developing and implementing a strategic framework for the ethical and humane use of technology across Salesforce, the role will also head up an Office of Ethical and Humane Use of Technology that merges law, policy and ethics and will be supported by an Advisory Council composed of a diverse group of frontline and executive employees — as well as academics, industry experts, and society leaders from academia.

Such executive roles are likely to proliferate as tech companies navigate the minefield of ethics in tech, and been identified as a cornerstone to the responsible and sustainable growth of the sector. Barron’s, the American weekly newspaper published by Dow Jones & Company, predicted that trust would be the No. 1 issue for tech in 2019. Accenture’s annual poll of consumers indicates that of the 50% of respondents who use Digital Voice Assistants, 41% have concerns around privacy and security.

The challenge will be which metrics of success these execs will be held accountable for.  Appointing one person or office can’t solve a fundamental business problem. Effectiveness will be down to how mainstreamed the responsible business agenda becomes within the organisation. Fundamentally it requires companies to define the sort of corporate citizen the company wishes to be and to empower the new Chief Ethics Officer to deliver the agreed ethical stance through the business and supply chain.