Working in the web industry is like a gift and a curse to me. On one side, I’m increasing my situation and making money doing something that I love and on the other side, I’m seeing an increasing amount of things that I don’t agree with but that becomes quite the norm — and it feels bad to be part of that without doing anything.
Earning money when running a business is, hopefully, normal and evident. Earning more money every year is a sign of good health for a company. Problems arise when, to make money, people cross the ethical frontiers.
The following is a non-exhaustive list of questions that raises ethical problems to me and that I would like to share with you.
Every single question in this list deserves an entire book to get proper answers.
Keep in mind that this post is not about blaming people that are not aware of the problems. It aims to make them realize that these things are not okay per se and that they should be addressed.
The answer is simple on the paper, but very hard in practice: we have to care. It’s not about just knowing and putting the problems somewhere in our heads and “remembering to tackle them later”. We have to be aware and act concretely.
For instance, if we need to get audience information about our websites, what about using tools that respect people’s privacy? Plausible.io is one of them and it allows to get that information without the need for private data (there are others, it’s just the one that I use, I don’t have any bindings with the company).
On the consumer side, if you don’t agree with some companies’ policies (you may have heard of some kind of new tracking technics recently), Privacy Tools is a great website giving practical advice, suggesting services and tools to reduce your privacy exposure.
We’re not forced to use (or to be the victims of) tools from mastodons that keep track of users’ moves, through our websites, making us at least, partially responsible.
The second point is about gender equity — and I should say equity in general.
If by any means, we spot a salary discrepancy between two people doing the same job, discrimination, or even harassment, we have to bring the problem up. We’re not forced to react intensely, we can gently raise the flag and create a discussion. But it’s important to raise that flag. We have to communicate, try to understand and find a way the fix the problem.
We should not hesitate to be vocal and to support our colleagues when they need us, let’s offer them our help, and manifest ourselves to improve the situation. Multiple voices have more impact than a single one from a person that faces professional difficulties.
Hiding and keeping information because we don’t feel concerned (or not comfortable) is selfish and unethical. It contributes somehow to keeping this problem real but also hidden.
One amazing effect of accessibility is that when you learn enough of it, you immediately become an advocate and can’t do without it. Accessibility is an ethical topic where everybody should be provided with a frictionless user experience when using a service or a tool — and it does not only apply to people that can see what’s happening on a screen.
The biggest problem with accessibility, to me, is that the number of people who have already built a truly accessible website is very low. I don’t blame anyone for not having this knowledge, I have personally never heard of it in school nor during my first 6 years working in the industry. But it’s important to be aware of it, to educate ourselves, and to learn more about it.
If you’re not familiar with accessibility, I suggest reading Accessibility is a priority published by one of my colleagues that provides practical wins to make your website more accessible. Also, I highly recommend spending time on A11y Coffee to completely dive into the topic.
We have to keep in mind that making our websites more accessible is a game-changer for more people than we think, we and our companies included. Not making this is, to me, as serious as discriminating a whole population.
The last point of my bullet list is about energy consumption.
It’s a very tough topic since our job is to build things running on electrical devices and so, our creations consume a certain amount of energy, often time 24/7. We live in an era of over-consumption and as technical people, we love innovation. The thing is, sometimes, innovation creates more indirect or invisible problems than it solves.
We obviously have to change the way we consume, reducing wasting, making sure our electronic devices (that are built using a gigantic amount of natural resources) reach their lifespan before getting new ones.
Concerning our web creations, two things can be done to reduce their footprints: hosting them on a “Green Hosting” provider that has a low PUE and using the right tools for the right job. What would be the real advantages of building a blog with a server-side technology on a whole Kubernetes cluster to only serve a few posts?
Also, if you come from the React ecosystem, I’ve written a post about the different rendering strategies I would adopt depending on the circumstances that help me avoiding server-side rendering when I don’t need it. And for French people, Green It proposes workshops and books about improving website footprints at the code level.
On the auditing side, I’ve recently discovered two tools to measure, or at least to provide an order of growth, of the energy consumed by a website: WebsiteCarbon and Argos. I don’t have that much feedback on them but the intent deserves at least respect and encouragement.
I voluntarily skipped the second point in the list and it’s, for me, probably the most important.
Younger developers may dream of fame and be part of an elite, wanting to join big companies because “they are the place to be”. There is nothing wrong with that but there are some correlations between some topics addressed in this post and some companies that people are dreaming to join.
To make sure we don’t commit to the same errors as we did in the past such as encouraging innovation in potentially ethically discussable directions, I think it’s our role, as more senior developers, mentors, and older adults to sensitize youngers and to educate them to reduce this kind of problems in the future, making them “exceptions” and not the norm.
And hopefully, we should educate ourselves, too, because, you know, it’s not the fault of the others.