Today CNN ran a piece by me on ethics issues in the tech world, titled, “What’s wrong with tech leaders?” There I discuss some of the major transgressions by top tech CEOs, and suggest public shaming as the best solution. 🙂
In this blog post, I will expand on this passage in the op-ed:
Yet idealistic instruction in ethics may be undermined by the perceptions that one can’t fight the system.
For example, there seems to be no plan to bring criminal charges against the anti-poaching colluders, even though federal judge Lucy Koh indicated she is still not happy with the proposed settlement for the engineers who experienced lost wages as a result of the secret wage-theft pact.
This actually illustrates a general theme in American legal history: If an illegal action is perceived to be committed by parties engaged in important economic development, there has been a tendency toward tolerance. A famous example is that of workplace safety. In the 19th century, the courts were reluctant to come down too hard on employers in workplace safety cases. Though undoubtedly the general pro-upper-class political mood played a role in this, legal scholars have found that economic progress, as a general public good, outweighed safety considerations.
We are arguably in such a situation again today. Though the Tech Revolution has been around for a while, there is a sense among many in DC, I’ve found, that U.S. economic dominance depends critically on technology, hence a desire to do whatever necessary to maintain the American lead in tech.
Much of this obsession involves China. The Obama administration, making a distinction between espionage for the purpose of national security and industrial spying, recently indicted five Chinese nationals (who are in China!) on the latter charges. China retaliated by threatening to cancel contracts with U.S. IT equipment makers.
In such a climate, note the recent news that Stanford University artificial intelligence expert Andrew Ng announced he was ending his relationship with Google Research, to become the head of the new Silicon Valley research branch of Google’s Chinese rival, Baidu. This news caused quite a stir among computer scientists in China, but must have alarmed some DC policymakers.
In other words, even putting aside the major campaign donation clout the U.S. tech industry wields on Capitol Hill, there still will be plenty of sentiment in Congress to look the other way concerning the industry’s ethical lapses.