Ethical leadership at Swiss Post

Ethical leadership Ethical leadership at Swiss Post

Published on 21.09.2020, Prof. Dr. Edy Portmann

We’re living in an increasingly tech-dominated world. Since we have little choice but to interact with technology, the role played by ethics is growing in significance. This is why we need to create a regulatory framework for the digitization of Switzerland so that everyone can benefit.

We’re living in an increasingly data-centric world in which there’s practically no way to stay out of the reach of potential surveillance technology. The influence technologies are having over our private lives, work and resident services is growing all the time. As such, developers devising digital services relating to our data trails have an increasing level of responsibility for creating ethically acceptable innovations. Ethics should be about more than simply discussing what’s right and wrong; developers need to be much more interested in what we as a society think is right – or wrong – and reflect this in our technologies.

For companies employing these developers to press ahead with tech-driven (market) innovations, there are both risks and major opportunities: companies which don’t strive for ethical innovations – e.g. using “privacy by design” – are likely to be penalized more by their customers in the future and will lose them. What’s more, such companies will also lose their developers, who will increasingly be looking for employers which offer conditions that meet their – ideal – expectations. By pursuing ethically acceptable technology, companies can also get a competitive edge – or lose it if they pay too little attention to these key issues. So, what does this all mean for a public service company such as Swiss Post?

It’s a fact that modern products and services collect huge quantities of data about us and our habits. Network industries such as Swiss Post could serve as a mediator in this data-centric world to enable us to regain control over our data. Data services could be established that promote the equal treatment of all Swiss residents. Swiss Post could supplement the idea of a digital public service by becoming a “mediator of our individual data”. This would compensate us as consumers if our data were provided to a third party in a marketplace regulated by ethical guidelines.

Network industries need to assume responsibility for the digital public service and continually scrutinize their conduct. Digitization is now also about how we implement those things we think are right; as such, it can help us drive forward the dialogue around our values and behaviour. This can take place at company level, but also via a regulatory framework. Swiss Post can facilitate this dialogue in a public service context using innovative digital services. And to get a handle on the ethics, it’s very important for the framework conditions to meet expectations. Swiss Post should focus on ensuring that these expectations are met by actions and should be empowered to resolve data issues for the benefit of the Swiss population.


Unfortunately, Connecta will not be taking place as planned. Prof. Dr. Edy Portmann would have been one of the 80 speakers. An alternative programme is available through Connecta TV, Doc and Talk – find out more:

Prof. Dr. Edy Portmann, University of Fribourg

Prof. Dr. Edy Portmann is Swiss Post Professor of Informatics at the Human-IST Institute of the University of Fribourg. His main areas of research include cognitive computing and its use in cities. He has also conducted research at the universities of Singapore, Berkeley and Bern.

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