Blockchain — a highly secure, decentralized type of database widely used in cryptocurrency — has the potential to revolutionize the way various social structures operate across the globe. From the worldwide financial markets to the distribution of humanitarian assistance, the possibilities for positive change are wide-ranging. However, such power requires those interested in public tech to evaluate blockchain with a close, critical eye. As developers take on building these types of solutions, we must keep in mind that the social effects of blockchain may be powerful and lasting.
It is critical for public technology leaders to understand that seemingly innocuous design choices have resounding ethical implications on people’s lives. As social media, cryptocurrencies, and algorithms have shown, technology is not neutral. Values are embedded in the code. How the problem is defined and by whom, who is building the solution, how it gets programmed and implemented, who has access, and what rules are created have consequences, in intentional and unintentional ways.
To maximize the benefits of blockchain and ensure its ethical use, this paper outlines why developers must prioritize intentionality when using blockchain databases and offers a framework to guide policymakers and social impact organizations.
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