Unlike many other industries like doctors, real estate agents, lawyers, social workers, etc. the tech world doesn't have to abide by any particular code of ethics. We can argue all we want about if such a thing should be required or what should be in it, but I think clearly something is better than the nothing we have today.
In most of the US at least, those professions I mentioned have state-recognized organizations which are legally empowered to regulate members of that profession, and they typically mandate a code of ethics. Examples:
- North Carolina Real Estate Commission
- North Carolina Social Work Certification and Licensure Board
I'm not qualified to say whether either group is effective at enforcing those ethical codes, but I sure am glad they have something. Something we can hold people to in case they act negligently or maliciously in their jobs.
Consider how the median piece of software today is a user-hostile, unmaintained piece of ad-tech with your choice of dark patterns, vulnerabilities, or opaque pricing topped with inaccessibility. This is not an acceptable foundation on which to build the next generation of technology. Given the lack of official standards or ethics for 70+ years of computing history, should we be surprised this is the case? For tech workers, there's no oath to swear, no book to sign your name in, no state licensing agency to register with. We're all on our own here, and we're not doing a great job on our own.
About the closest thing to a relevant code of ethics I've found is the ACM Code of Ethics. If you've never truly understood the Voltaire quote "common sense is not so common" before, you'll understand what it means after skimming the section titles and thinking about people working in certain specific tech sectors 😬
With that said, I think we should all self-attest to following some specific code of ethics. Is this performative virtue signalling? Oh absolutely. But the reason why "performative" and "virtue signalling" have negative connotations is because of people who are all talk and no action. Being "performative" is crucial for raising awareness of important subjects. What are protests if not performative? Maybe this is all symbolic, but what long-lived institution of ethics exists today that doesn't benefit from its symbolism? The real test is whether you'll actually follow the code of ethics for real, and maybe the threat of looking like a huge hypocrite will be a helpful incentive.
So here goes: I personally think it's a good idea to consider ethics in all things relating to my profession in tech. To that end, I plan to follow the ACM Code of Ethics. It's not infallible, and neither am I, but that's no excuse to just give up.
As a result of saying that, you now have power over me. I have no license to be revoked, but if I wrong you, you can hold me to my word. Like a service level agreement for interacting with me professionally. This one-way power dynamic feels kinda weird, right? Well, you can fix that by also self-attesting to a professional code of ethics. Doesn't matter which one.
What more do you want, a badge to put in your READMEs? God no.