Forrester Research warns CIOs of the risk of tech whistleblowers as companies increasingly adopt tools like artificial intelligence that lack employee trust, necessitating the need for responsible technology policies.
According to a Forrester Research 2023 forecast report based on data from customer surveys, technology industry professionals are increasingly reluctant to use applications and technologies that raise ethical concerns. In fact, in 2021, Forrester found that a fifth of technology leaders using or interested in AI specifically cited lack of employee trust as a key barrier to adopting AI-enabled technologies.
AI has come under fire in recent years, internally for employees and externally for customers. While employees have begun to engage with tools that encourage employee monitoring, there’s also a history of problems with companies’ algorithmic decision-making tools when it comes to loans, mortgages, and even job applications.
Ethical issues in tech companies’ use of AI were further brought to light in 2022, when a former product manager at Facebook, Frances Haugen, revealed that the company’s content-ranking algorithms consistently boosted violent and extreme content. Haugen also said that Meta, formerly Facebook, has been shielding its research on the damage the content ranking algorithms have caused, particularly to teenagers on Meta’s own Instagram.
While whistleblowers — people who report suspected fraudulent and dangerous activity to authorities or the media — work to ensure tech companies are held accountable for their use of technology, they also hold companies accountable for their business practices. Twitter whistleblower Peiter “Mudge” Zatko, the company’s former security chief, testified before the Senate in September that Twitter lacked basic security measures for accessing employee data on the platform.
Forrester Research’s 2023 Outlook report predicts that 2023 will see more whistleblowers coming forward across the technology industry.
“When employees are asked to self-organize around these AI-driven tools and trust themselves to support a company’s productivity and bottom line, they will step up to hold corporate leadership and technical power to account pull,” said Linda Ivy-Rosser, a research director at Forrester Research and a report author.
Influence of tech whistleblowers
The consequences of whistleblowers are twofold: profits and reputation.
Frances Haugen’s revelation cost Meta $6 billion in market value, said Suneet Muru, an analyst at data analytics firm GlobalData.
“The impact of a whistleblower is difficult to measure but can be linked to the size of the leak itself,” Muru said. “The amount of information that Frances Haugen has uncovered dwarfed previous leaks, but also brought these lesser-known cases to mainstream media attention.”
Alan Fur-SharpeFounder, Deep Analysis
According to Forrester Research’s 2023 report, 39% of customers surveyed said they would stop doing business with companies after a damaging headline.
Whistleblowers can affect not only a company’s profitability but also future employees and partners, said Alan Pelz-Sharpe, founder of market analysis firm Deep Analysis.
Whistleblowers have influence “by letting others know the true nature of the business,” he said.
He added that the tech sector is “crammed with issues” that many employees are uncomfortable with, and he expects more whistleblowers.
“For the past few decades, tech industry whistleblowers have warned the world about fraud. But now that’s increasingly shifting to exposing unethical engineering practices,” he said. “The rise of AI will undoubtedly create more whistleblowers.”
CIOs need a responsible technology policy
Ivy-Rosser said employees are changing and feeling more empowered to speak up when problems arise.
She said employees “feel like they don’t have to give up their humanity” just because they work for a company. Instead, they expect morals and ethics to be embedded in company values and pillars.
This desire for morality on behalf of a company should prompt CIOs to carefully consider an ethical technology strategy, she said.
Implementing an ethical and responsible technology strategy means CIOs and other C-suite leaders must work together to mitigate legal and business risks, Ivy-Rosser said.
“Strategic planning needs to broaden our vision and horizons of what responsible and ethical technology means,” she said.
Makenzie Holland is a news writer covering big tech and state regulation. Before joining TechTarget, she was a general reporter for the Wilmington Star News and a crime and education reporter at the Wabash Plain dealer.