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A Crisis of Ethics in Technology Innovation

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A Crisis of Ethics in Technology Innovation

As businesses work to delight consumers, they must also protect the public trust.

MIT Sloan Management Review,

5 min read
3 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

Technology disrupters shouldn’t get a free pass for the ethical blowback from their innovations.

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Editorial Rating



  • Analytical
  • Applicable
  • Insider's Take


Technology innovation responds to consumer demand, often without giving enough consideration to ethical implications. As disruptive business models replace components of existing value chains, the new models outpace regulations and controls. Yet, their creators seldom assume responsibility for the ethical consequences. SAP’s Max Wessel and Nicole Helmer offer three strategies to navigate this moral dilemma in society’s best interest.


Companies whose innovations disrupt parts of an industry’s value chain must consider the long-term ethical consequences for society.

The 2018 Cambridge Analytica scandal brought public attention to Facebook-enabled invasions of privacy. Facebook had disrupted the media value chain by democratizing the content distribution network. Today, the platform hosts billions of users around the world. However, when the popularity of the site exploded, its creators gave little thought to the ethical implications of providing marketers access to user data or putting safeguards in place to ensure that posts didn’t mislead or manipulate.

Facebook is a cautionary tale of what happens when technology companies are left to self-regulate in the public interest as they focus on disrupting and restructuring traditional industries. Disrupters within the finance and health industry should take heed.

Innovators create niche products to fulfill consumer demand, often without considering possible negative effects on the public.

In a 2001 Harvard Business...

About the Authors

Max Wessel is chief innovation officer at software company SAP. He also lectures at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. Nicole Helmer is the head of strategy at SAP’s Innovation Center Network.

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