Ethical Food For Thought for Web Developers

Image by Serge Kij via Flickr

Behind the coding and plugins that can be used in WordPress development lies a number of ethically questionable activities which developers can employ innocently, or maliciously to achieve certain outcomes or goals of the website. The topic of development ethics is still a relatively fuzzy domain, but these issues are constantly addressed and discussed at seminars held by WordPress themselves. Many of the issues they discuss don’t seem immediately obvious to developers, but upon closer inspection it becomes pretty easy to see why certain practices can seem a little dodgy to anyone using the site in question. So for the fair and transparent use of the web for everybody, let’s discuss a few of the ethical issues concerning WordPress development.

  • Accountability

When it comes to ethical issues, the questions of who is accountable for infractions and how, has to come up at some point, and in this case it is a good point of departure. The common thinking is that because the system is essentially managed and run by servers and machines, that there is no way for anyone to claim accountability for bad practice.

But the servers are just a platform, a piece of equipment that is no more responsible for questionable web practices than a TV camera is in the production of violent television or pornography. Because of this, the ethical responsibility falls on the WordPress developer and to a great extent, whoever they are creating the site for.

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  • A wild-fire spreads quickly

One of the most powerful outcomes of the internet is the fact that any results or consequences of the practice of the site take effect immediately. Once a site goes live it is immediately accessible on a global level. This means that any unethical practices used in development will take effect quickly and it will pretty much spread at the speed of light.

  • The double edged sword

WordPress core is a free and openly accessible open source software that is meant to be used by any interested parties. In theory this is a very noble ideal because it fosters freedom of speech and expression to be practiced on a global scale. However it brings about a couple of problems of its own. This also means that WordPress has no administrative or even legal right to remove malicious sites which use the WP framework.

Using the software for anything means it can be utilised, unhindered by national laws (in many cases) to set up anything from a communally beneficial charity, or a revenge porn site with an equal amount of legislative weight.

  • Deception and tom-foolery

You don’t need to set up a harmful site to commit unethical practices, and it’s here that developers in particular need to draw ethical lines in the sand, and be prepared to refuse using certain techniques.

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For example, a company may want the ‘subscribe by email’ box checked by default on the contact or subscription form used on their website, because it has been found that this technique yields a very high number of subscribers to the site. This is wonderful for the business but somewhat vexing for the user. Something so small can have a major effect on the reputation of the developer and the company who have chartered the website because it is deceptive and it takes advantage of the fact that most users won’t read through the form properly. When most of your business is coming from accident and trickery, you’re probably breaking a few ethical codes.

  • Developing secure websites

We’ve all become acutely aware of how rife cyber-crime is with constant stories in the news reporting on hacks, leaks, and vandalism of websites. As a WordPress developer, your customer is expecting that their websites will be secure enough to allow users to utilise it with confidence that their information is as safe as it can be from outside attacks. It is the developer’s responsibility alone to ensure this security is offered.

  • Accessibility

Accessibility in WordPress development is often overlooked which is a problem considering a fairly high percentage of users have specific needs. Software accessibility to those with disabilities is a constantly developing framework for many software engineers, but still needs a lot of work in the realms of web development. A developer risks alienating a large portion of the possible audience if no special attention is paid to the needs of those with handicaps that hinder the easy use of the site

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