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Compounding barriers to fairness in the digital technology ecosystem

Woolley, Sandra I.; Collins, Tim; Andras, Peter; Gardner, Allison; Ortolani, Marco; Pitt, Jeremy

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Tim Collins

Peter Andras

Allison Gardner

Jeremy Pitt


A growing sense of unfairness permeates our quasi-digital society. Despite drivers supporting and motivating ethical practice in the digital technology ecosystem, there are compounding barriers to fairness that, at every level, impact technology innovation, delivery and access. Amongst these are barriers and omissions at the earliest stages of technology intentionality and design; systemic inadequacies in sensing systems that deteriorate performance for individuals based on ethnicity, age and physicality; system design, co-requisite and interface decisions that limit access; biases and inequities in datasets and algorithms; and limiting factors in system function and security. Additionally, there are concerns about unethical and illegal practices amongst digital technology providers: for example, in planned obsolescence and anti-competitive behaviors, failings in data practices and security, and in responses to problematic use and behaviors. It is critical that these failings are identified and addressed to better evolve a fairer future digital technology ecosystem. This paper contributes a perspective on technological stewardship and innovation; it identifies the compounding nature of barriers to fairness in the current digital technology ecosystem, and contrasts these with the non-compounding fairness drivers that, in general, establish minimum requirements.

Conference Name 2021 IEEE International Symposium on Technology and Society (ISTAS)
Conference Location Waterloo, ON, Canada
Start Date Oct 28, 2021
End Date Oct 31, 2021
Acceptance Date Oct 28, 2021
Publication Date Oct 28, 2021
Publicly Available Date May 30, 2023
Publisher Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE)
Series Title 2021 IEEE International Symposium on Technology and Society (ISTAS)
Keywords digital technology; fairness; fairness metrics
Publisher URL


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