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The Ethical Use of Persuasive Technology

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Our lab’s view on Persuasive Technologies

From the very early days in the late 90’s and early 00’s we could see the need for an ethical approach for designing persuasive technologies. While our research has moved on from persuasive technology to focus on designing for healthy behavior change, we believe it is important to continue to highlight the ethical contributions in the field of Persuasive Technology so that those who are responsible for designing persuasive technologies can do so in an ethical way. Below you will find several resources our lab created on the ethical creation of persuasive technologies.

(BJ’s quick note: This video above has a slow pace, and it’s not my best look, with the shaved head and all. However, do listen to what I was predicting and warning people about. At least go to minute 10 and see what I say about the political use of persuasion profiles. We recorded this video in 2006 to warn policymakers of the impacts persuasive technology could have. Remember, this message was recorded in 2006 not 2016 and the message rings true more and more every day.)

In addition to our lab’s consistent focus on the need for an ethical approach to persuasive technology, we also emphasized the opportunity for Persuasive Technology to help millions of people. Here are a few areas where we put this into practice.  Along with those efforts, our lab focused on technology that promoted peace.

  1. The lab’s focus on technology to promote peace (starting in 2009) led to a new lab at Stanford called the “Peace Innovation Lab” —

  2. Based on our work in the lab, BJ co-authored a book in 2010 to help parents understand Facebook and protect their kids: Facebook for Parents (out of print now but you can find copies online).

  3. We researched and then held five ground-breaking industry events (2007-2012) to share insights and best practices around how mobile devices can be used to improve the health of everyday people. We focused on what really works to change people’s health behaviors.

  4. BJ has long been a champion for his former students doing good things in the world, including Tristan Harris and his work (“Time Well Spent” and now Center for Humane Technology). Tristan has a TedTalk discussing the dark side of Persuasive Technology and he continues to champion the ethical use of these technologies to solve the current challenges we face. 

We are proud of the work our lab has done over the years and while our work has moved away from this arena, we hope anyone looking to design persuasive technologies will review the work we have done on ethics and focus their research and efforts on positive change and helping people succeed and feel successful at doing what they already want to do.