Does a stellar valuation excuse second-rate values?

Betraying personal privacy, failure to communicate terms of use, circumventing the law, and preying on vulnerability — these are just some of the scandals emerging in the tech world. To put a spin on the well-known expression: what does it profit an organisation to gain stellar valuations if they abandon their core values? Were those values mere window dressing? 

Last week, the CEO and co-founder of Unroll.Me wrote a blog post titled, “We Can Do Better” apologising for disrespecting users’ privacy. Former users of the digital service complained the CEO was merely ‘apologising’ that he got caught. (Why is the modern apology usually along the lines of “I’m sorry if anyone was offended” rather than “I’m sorry I did the wrong thing”?) The New York Times reported, “Using an email digest service it owns named Unroll.me, Slice collected its customers’ emailed Lyft receipts from their inboxes and sold the anonymized data to Uber.” Take a moment to think about this: the service you were using to unroll you from unwanted email searched those emails and sold off the data.

The comments left beneath the CEO’s post show the deep frustration people felt because of the deceitful tactics. One said, “This is a one-strike-I-leave-your-service kind of thing. Being sneaky with customer data breaks trust.” Another echoed, “Essentially swiping my customer data without notification? Massive breach of trust.”

What I find particularly striking is the disappointment of people essentially scolding themselves for trusting the service to respect their privacy in the first place: “Just deleted my account. Hope you also delete any meta-data you collected as part of my stupidity for trusting your service.”

When CEOs let core values slide, there is no telling how far the betrayal of customers, employees and, by extension, investors will go.

Morally bankrupt CEOs risk fiscal bankruptcy

Apple’s Tim Cook recently discovered that Uber CEO Travis Kalanick was sneakily breaking the rules and undermining customers’ interests. As reported by Nick Whigham, “Uber was pulling a fast one on Apple and using software to identify iPhones even after their owners deleted the app, or even wiped the phone completely. It’s known as fingerprinting and it’s not an overly uncommon technique in the tech world and is often used in anti-fraud measures. But it does breach the rules Apple sets out for clients using its App Store.” As you know, Uber is no stranger to ethical controversy. 

Real leaders know that a stellar valuation does not excuse second-rate values. A company built on second-rate values or worse, a company that outright pursues profit at the expense of people, is doomed to fail. 

Darren Davidson revealed that The Australian (newspaper) obtained a Facebook document showing the social network is “using sophisticated algorithms to identify and exploit Australians as young as 14, by allowing advertisers to target them at their most vulnerable, including when they feel ‘worthless’ and ‘insecure’.”

While this news may not influence the 1.86 billion users on Facebook to abandon the social network, it is crucial for us to sound the alarm about these abuses of technocratic power. You should also realise that if Facebook is doing this to children they could potentially do it to everyone (or intend to) on their network.

I believe people do care about being treated as human beings via human-centred service. The current backlash against airline companies’ dehumanising treatment of customers also confirms this — and it has real economic consequences.

In the twenty-first century, morally bankrupt CEOs with anti-values ultimately risk fiscal bankruptcy. In a world of economic freedom and abundant competition, you can vote with your dollars for human-centred business every time — knowing that these are good for you, your family and friends and for society.