We want to live in a fair world. For some, fairness implies equality, while for others, it means proportionality: people should be rewarded for their contributions.
The importance of denying access to a certain population plays a vital role in tech. This is something that has to do with fairness. Accessibility is all about allowing users with visual, auditory, physical, or cognitive difficulties to use our products.
Users should be able to use our products with screenreaders, the UIs should contain enough colour contrast, and language should be understandable to all.
Physical products should also be designed to allow them to be used by as many people as possible. I know it’s a very minor issue, but it’s hard to believe how many issues I already encounter as a left-handed person.
The ease with which designers pick colours, without looking at contrast, is a good example of how little awareness our industry sometimes has. With slight colour adjustments, UIs can be made much easier to digest for the colourblind.
People with darker skin struggle with facial recognition software because contrast calibration is optimised for light skin.
A moral product has its accessibility in order. Product teams should be mindful of the challenges they can create for the non-standard user.
Honesty and justice
Justice and honesty go closely together. Is it acceptable to lie to the user? For instance, can a hotel booking platform give you the illusion that a particular room is likely to be fully booked soon, whereas, in reality, there’s enough availability?
What about dating apps that add fake accounts to make (usually male) users believe that plenty of potential dates are available? What if this dating platform creates an algorithm that puts attractive people on top of the stack? This brings us back to the preference for equality or proportionality.
Is it OK for companies to hide certain costs in the checkout process? Amazon is scrutinised for subconsciously nudging people into signing up for Amazon Prime.
The Federal Trade Commission is taking action against Amazon.com, Inc. for its years-long effort to enroll consumers into its Prime program without their consent while knowingly making it difficult for consumers to cancel their subscriptions to Prime.
Many growth teams struggle with the debate about how easy it should be for users to unsubscribe. Another discussion is whether adding hidden costs to the checkout process is okay.
Surveillance and data collection
As users, we sometimes deliberately, but mostly subconsciously, give a ton of data to the companies behind our apps. These companies are harvesting everything they can find about you to sell to data brokers. Those data brokers then make profiles about you and sell them again to companies to make decisions.
This article isn’t about the mechanisms of data as a commodity but about morality. To what degree should apps inform you about the data they collect, and what they afterwards do with it? Most people don’t read the privacy statements and would be shocked to know what’s in them. Should companies be more open about their intentions, or is it OK to hide them in long legal documents written in incomprehensible language?
Moral products show information that is aligned with reality. They also don’t create illusionary engagement, for instance, with fake users.
Haidt and I have different ideas about what loyalty means. For him, loyalty is strongly related to family values and patriotism. This is obviously one aspect of loyalty, but universalism and globalism are other shades of loyalty—something he doesn’t include.
Some companies have strong patriotic communication. The Spanish car brand Seat names all its models after local regions (Leon, Ibiza, etc.) Apple’s operating systems are derived from Californian regions or animals (Yosemite, Snow Leopard, etc.) Swiss watch, chocolate, and knife brands often have the Swiss cross in their logo. Sports teams, news websites, and governmental apps usually have a communication style representing their origins.
Does this make these companies more moral than those with neutral colours and branding? I don’t think so. They just use a certain marketing strategy that works for them.
Prioritising domestic products
What about webshops that show foreign products as much as domestic products? Do they have to prioritise the local brands to aid the national economy? Should they favour their commercial objectives and sell as much as possible, or should they miss out on sales and push for domestic products?
Encouraging new or short-term connections
Plenty of apps allow you to expand, or even substitute, your social circle. Solo travelling has never been easier because you can find people to meet on Couchsurfing or other apps. Business networking has moved from the local rotary to LinkedIn. Social media offers a chance for people with unique desires to find like-minded people.
This contradicts the basic principle of loyalty. You can find new connections if you are unhappy with your current ones. Does this make these products immoral?
It’s hard to define what a moral product means regarding loyalty.
This is up to the company and user base to decide.
The government, the police, and parents are the most important authorities, according to Haidt. Respect and obedience are a big part of this moral foundation.
How much we have to show respect is related to the cultural dimension of power distance.
Tone of Voice
This cultural divide of authority can be seen in how companies address users. I worked in multicultural environments where this was often a heated debate.
Germanic and Latin languages address someone in a formal way (vous, Sie), or in an informal form (tu, du). In countries with a high power distance, it’s not done to tutoyer (using the informal form) in a digital product.
Choosing between “vous” or “tu” can be compared with having to choose between writing “Dear Mr. Wallet”, or “Hi Bas”.
Your language’s formality depends on your target audience’s social and cultural conventions.
Who to trust?
Another aspect of authority is how countries look at trustworthiness. Countries that value authority have a tendency to work more with certificates and labels that prove their competencies. Those badges you find on the bottom of websites.
They also like endorsements of politicians or other important people to establish their reliability. Egalitarian countries can use humour and celebrities to increase brand reputation.
A lot of UX is about communication.
Aligning your UX copy with the target user and their cultural norms is important and is related to this moral foundation.
There is not necessarily a wrong and right here.
Breaking or avoiding the rules
There is certainly a group of products that help you to be “creative” with the rules.
- Some apps inform you where speed checks on the motorway are. This allows you to drive faster than is allowed.
- VPN apps allow you to bypass the local internet, preventing the government from monitoring your online behaviour.
- VPNs directly bring us to illegal download platforms like Pirate Bay. These apps help you to break copyright laws.
A case can definitely be made that apps that help you break the law are less moral.