Ml5.js moves forward with innovative ethical licensing structure


Ethical licensing is voluntary self-regulation. It’s based on a popular intervention that tries to delineate moral consensus in many diverse professions all clamouring for the same kind of social prestige. The exemplary case is perhaps the medical profession, established around 19th C and involves strict government controls and formal educational standards, but in some countries even yoga tutors can volunteer to be regulated by one corporate scheme or another.

Demonstrating professional standing in software is as important as in any other sector. Freelance producers are no different to self-employed electricians or yoga teachers in that all self-employed people need to portray a trustworthy image. There is competitive advantage to be had in offering reassurance that they aren’t the sort of people that (metaphorically speaking) want to ‘f*ck with cats’.

Evidence suggests voluntary self-regulation is slightly effective at keeping certain kinds of people out of a particular field, people who are either unwilling or unable to meet the criteria. It does this by creating barriers to market entry and this also helps keep pay rates slightly higher. There is little evidence that voluntary self-regulation protects the public as much as the lobbyists in favor of it claim though.

It also leaves practitioners open to regulatory capture by the state.

Perversely, the incentives for people signing up for voluntary self-regulation mask the fact that small businesses and freelancers pose a relatively trivial threat to society when compared to Big Tech.

Schemes like this target all the ‘little people’, and let big corporations off the hook who just ignore it. This is the misfortune of voluntary self-regulation in the form of ethical standards. Leaving the distribution of ethical standards to the ‘little folk’ already struggling with compressed occupational narratives piles on the pressure for them, while big corporations continue to behave as badly as they dare.

Schemes like this create additional burdens for (mostly) well-intentioned, ‘mom and pop’ sized producers, while the greatest risks to society posed by large corporates continue to advance monopolies and censorship.

Meanwhile, the largest monopolies will continue to dictate the workforce, education, public health and environmental agendas all around the world despite these efforts.