Finding Practices that Cultivate Ethical Computing in Mobile and Wearable Application Research & Development

Finding Practices that Cultivate Ethical Computing in Mobile and Wearable Application Research & Development

Cultivating ethical computing and ethical computing researchers is an ongoing challenge. Much current research focuses on framing ethics (e.g. privacy, equity, or accessibility) as explicit software design goals. This work has resulted in dedicated design techniques (e.g. value sensitive design, privacy by design) meant to eliminate bias, ensure privacy, or enable accessibility. Much less studied have been existing ethical cultures within software research and development. We don’t know when and how ethical discussions and decisions emerge within software development, or what encourages these discussions and decisions. This proposal studies academic and commercial software research and development (R&D) to discover factors that encourage discussion and action on ethical challenges. It will then incorporate findings into curricular materials for computer ethics by building interactive R&D simulations for classrooms and massive online open courseware (MOOCs). The PI’s previous ethnographic work suggests that the day-to-day work of software R&D can include values levers: work practices that pry open discussions about values and help teams build consensus around social values as design criteria. This project will expand and test that preliminary work by collecting comparative data from contrasting software R&D environments. These investigations will focus on mobile and wearable application development, an area rife with ethical concerns. Mobile devices collect sensitive data ranging from biometrics to location to contacts, and collection of this data is almost entirely unregulated. We will observe diverse types of mobile and wearable R&D work, including academic and commercial, co-located and virtual, and small and large teams. We will use participant-observation methods (attending conferences, participating in design meetings, and conducting interviews) as well as analysis of trace data (logs, chat, bug trackers, and other recorded means of organizing virtual work) to observe the diverse work practices involved in mobile application development. Collecting data from contrasting projects will enable us to better understand the relationship between diverse work practices and ethical computing research. We will then incorporate the empirical findings into interactive simulations for students in mobile application design courses to evaluate whether values levers from the field can have impacts in classroom and online education. The project asks: 1) What practices within mobile application research and development encourage discussion of, and decisions about, ethics? 2) How can these practices be incorporated into computer ethics education? 3) How do simulations based on these practices impact computer ethics education?

January 2015 - December 2018
National Science Foundation
Total Award Amount: 

Principal Investigator:

Adam A. Porter & Elizabeth Lynn Blake & Jonathan Wilkenfeld & Alexander Robert Jonas & Audrey R Tetteh & Devin Hayes Ellis

Additional Investigators