December 3, 2023


Technology and Age

Will Amazon Ban “Ethics”? | The Business Ethics Blog

A new report from The Intercept implies that a new in-property messaging application for Amazon staff members could ban a extended string of words, including “ethics.” Most of the terms on the listing are kinds that a disgruntled employee would use — phrases like “union” and “compensation” and “pay increase.” According to a leaked document reviewed by The Intercept, one attribute of the messaging app (nevertheless in growth) would be “An automatic term monitor would also block a wide variety of phrases that could signify potential critiques of Amazon’s operating disorders.” Amazon, of study course, is not exactly a lover of unions, and has put in (again, per the Intercept) a ton of revenue on “anti-union consultants.”

So, what to say about this naughty checklist?

On a single hand, it is quick to see why a corporation would want not to offer personnel with a resource that would support them do one thing not in the company’s curiosity. I imply, if you want to organize — or even just complain — applying your Gmail account or Signal or Telegram, that is 1 factor. But if you want to achieve that goal by applying an application that the organization presents for internal company needs, the company possibly has a teensy little bit of a reputable grievance.

On the other hand, this is obviously a bad look for Amazon — it is unseemly, if not unethical, to be virtually banning workers from using words and phrases that (maybe?) indicate they’re executing something the company does not like, or that it’s possible just suggest that the company’s employment benchmarks aren’t up to snuff.

But really, what strikes me most about this strategy is how ham-fisted it is. I imply, keyword phrases? Very seriously? Don’t we currently know — and if we all know, then surely Amazon appreciates — that social media platforms make possible considerably, a lot far more subtle ways of influencing people’s behaviour? We’ve previously observed the use of Facebook to manipulate elections, and even our emotions. When compared to that, this meant checklist of naughty phrases would seem like Dr Evil trying to outfit sharks with laser-beams. What unions need to seriously be apprehensive about is employer-provided platforms that really do not explicitly ban phrases, but that subtly form consumer practical experience dependent on their use of all those words and phrases. If Cambridge Analytica could plausibly try to influence a nationwide election that way, could not an employer rather believably goal at shaping a unionization vote in identical fasion?

As for banning the phrase “ethics,” I can only shake my head. The capability to converse overtly about ethics — about values, about principles, about what your organization stands for, is regarded by most students and consultants in the realm of company ethics as rather elementary. If you can’t speak about it, how likely are you to be to be in a position to do it?

(Thanks to MB for pointing me to this story.)