Frontend development + UX + Accessibility

Ethics for web developers

Screenshot of the Facebook menu with fake inactive notification labels.
Facebook created fake notification alerts on their updated Terms page, prompting users to quickly click “agree” without reading in order to access their new messages and updates.

This is something I've become more and more aware of during my career, and particularly now that Surveillance Capitalism has become a thing. I've introduced countless friends and family members to the joys of Adblock browser plugins. There is no way I'd let my toddler watch YouTube with ads on it, nor autoplay enabled.

But what does "Ethics in web development" mean? To me it's a natural part of the User Experience (UX). It means ensuring that the contents are available for everyone, not just those with fibre internet and the latest MacBook Pros. I think that is a very low bar to pass, but try browsing the web today with JavaScript disabled. It's amazing how many sites and apps come to a grinding halt then.

But it's not just making sites accessible, though that's a great first step. It's also being nice to people. If the design is deliberately tricking people into clicking or doing something they didn't intend to, it's not a good design, no matter how accessible it. This is commonly known as Dark Patterns. Another commonly used dark patterns is writing copy that is trying to shame a visitor into doing something they don't want to. And I haven't even touched upon the privacy and security issues.

Mike Monteiro has been banging on about this for some time, and brings up some great historical examples of how other industries didn't think much about ethics until it became very clear that they needed too. Today it's the web industry's turn.

How to Build an Atomic Bomb - Mike Monteiro - btconfDUS2018 from beyond tellerrand on Vimeo.

Sara Wachter-Boettcher shows us how our biases can ruin the best intensions. She shows a string of examples that should've never needed to happen if someone on the product team had dared to ask the question "can this hurt someone?" Even when asking it, it will often get brushed away, or even laughed at, usually with a comment about how "we don't have users like that". But when an app has millions, or even billions of people logging in every day, there are no edge cases anymore.

Sara Wachter-Boettcher // Designing Inclusive Products // UX Week 2018 from Adaptive Path on Vimeo.

I realise putting aside 2 hours seems like a lot, so maybe do it while commuting, or at home while cooking or cleaning. If you are involved in building a service or product that will be used by other people, you owe it to yourself to give these two talks a listen.


This post was originally posted on my LinkedIn feed.

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