How Should We Define The Ethical Boundaries of Technology?

Guest: Joe Toscano, founder of BEACON

Ethical lapses in some tech companies have grabbed headlines in recent years.  Tech is changing daily, touching every aspect of our lives. It’s time to define the ethical boundaries of technology.  Without focus on ethics in technology, there will be huge unintended consequences.    On today’s show, Joe Toscano, joins me.  Joe is founder of BEACON and author of Automating Humanity.  He is also a former award-winning experience designer for Google.  Joe’s background in Silicon Valley and Big Tech has led him to explore tech in terms of ethics.  

ethical boundaries of technology

Leaving the Valley

After several years in the Silicon Valley “bubble,” Joe decided to step away.  Disconnect between life in the Valley and the world outside became his opportunity.  Joe Toscano formed a nonprofit called BEACON. BEACON stands for “Better Ethics and Consumer Outcomes Network.” It is a social innovation organization.  BEACON strives to connect the public to what is going on in the tech industry.  BEACON provides insights to policymakers in defining ethical boundaries of technology.   This tech insight equips them to address ethical concerns in a balanced way. BEACON works with technologists to create products that meet consumer demand and create positive social impact. Some tech leaders are content to leave it to regulators to define ethical boundaries of technology.  Through BEACON, Joe takes a holistic approach. Shaping ethical boundaries of technology has many factors to consider. The effect on the consumer, small business, local and global community as well as Big Tech must be in view.

Lighting the Way

Regulators cannot keep up with the pace of innovation today.  Joe believes there are certain things regulators must address. But, some things need to remain informal and driven solely by business.  This is where the nonprofit side of BEACON comes in. It is about education, research, and creating public safety tools. The goal is to educate consumers and regulators to ask the right questions.  BEACON partners with the University of Nebraska and Digital Futures Initiative.  These partnerships center on ethics in technology.

BEACON has branched out this year forming a for profit side.  In the for profit sector, BEACON is creating products that will help small businesses comply with regulations.  The first product launching will generate required legal agreements. This will minimize legal expenses for small businesses.

Ethics in Technology

Businesses that want to set ethical boundaries of technology must change the mindset.  BEACON advises that they must move their business away from the quarterly statistics and into the longer term.  

What is one of the biggest problems today? The attention economy drives tech.  This presents issues in terms of ethics. There is not a defined production value.  There’s room for innovation in defining what the production value is. The area of data is wide open for innovation.  At the core, innovations like these require thought on the long term ethical implications. BEACON’s work in the space of ethical boundaries in technology is timely and essential.

If you’d like to track what Joe is doing, visit .   For the latest, sign up for his newsletter.  Pick up a copy of Joe’s recent book, Automating Humanity, available through Amazon.

To hear the interview with Joe Toscano and his insights on ethical boundaries of technology, listen to this week's show: How Should We Define The Ethical Boundaries of Technology?.

Five Minutes to New Ideas

Time is one of those resources that we never have enough of. We are given 1,440 minutes each day and once it is gone, it is gone. When it comes to translating ideas into innovation, it comes down to opportunity costs. This week on Five Minutes to New Ideas I discuss opportunity costs. How can you help your team save time on things of low value to work on things of higher value? How will you prioritize your 1,440 minutes today?


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2 thoughts on “How Should We Define The Ethical Boundaries of Technology?

  1. at about 17:55, you said that it’s a corporate officers fiduciary responsibility, BY LAW, that they focus on increasing shareholder value. As far as my understanding and research has informed me, there’s no law that would put that over everything else. Can you clarify what you meant and provide a reference to the law(s) that support your statement?

    • My comments are focused on SEC laws for public companies where the “elected officers” are fiduciaries for the shareholders. Depending on the states where a company is incorporated, for example, Deleware, there are certain restrictions on what can and cannot be done without approval from the board which is elected by the shareholders (in most cases). In some cases, duel classes of stock structures such as Facebook give control to a single person even when they don’t control a majority of stock. In that case, the fiduciary responsibility is to the one person who controls the org — Mark Zuckerberg.

      I’ve twice been either an elected officer or board member of public companies. Both times during and after the Enron fiasco. Not fun experiences.