Publication: A critical professional ethical analysis of Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs)
This paper is a comprehensive analysis of NFTs according to the Association of Computing Machinery (ACM) Code of Ethics and Professional Practice. I have been wanting to write a paper like this for quite a while and then it took quite a while – in the wild world of crypto everything moves very quickly. I even had to rewrite the paper drastically after reviews came in because Ethereum went proof-of-stake, completing “the Merge” that had been vapourware for so long. Anyway, I finished it after months of research, hundred of references, and thousands of words of writing, just before going on maternity leave – and here we are.
The key messages are that NFTs are currently unethical to implement.
The ethical issues that arise [...] include issues of harm, well-being, discrimination, fairness, intellectual property rights, privacy, quality of work, competence of those involved, legal issues, the ability to give and receive critical review, lack of education for users, personal gain over public good, security, maintenance and end-of-life for NFT ecosystems, and ensuring the public good is the key concern when developing, deploying, and maintaining NFTs.
In the Recommendations section of the paper I suggest some mitigations for those who want to persist in implementing NFTs, though they are not for the faint of heart – they initially require a test of whether the same experience can be delivered with already-existing technology due to the underlying problematic aspect of speculative cryptocurrencies that drive the NFT ecosystem.
There also needs to be a reasonable path to not implementing NFTs:
Developing a responsible, ethical approach to the project requires the flexibility to not engage in development of an NFT-based project should it become impossible to find a way to solve or mitigate the ethical responsibility. Reflection at too late a stage will likely lead to financial or momentum pressure on continuing with the project. Therefore, this should be an initial step and engage with a wide variety of stakeholders in order to ensure that pre-existing biases can be exposed and mitigated along the way.
I hope that you enjoy this paper, I really enjoyed writing it, and appreciate the reviews I received and the thoughtful discussion I had with colleagues along the way.
You can access the paper for free here: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2666659622000312
Citation: Flick, C. (2022) A critical professional ethical analysis of Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs), Journal of Responsible Technology, Volume 12, December 2022. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jrt.2022.100054