An AI ethics ‘David and Goliath’: Value conflicts between large tech companies and their employees

Mark Ryan*, Eleni Christodoulou, Josephina Antoniou, Kalypso Iordanou

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


Artificial intelligence ethics requires a united approach from policymakers, AI companies, and individuals, in the development, deployment, and use of these technologies. However, sometimes discussions can become fragmented because of the different levels of governance (Schmitt in AI Ethics 1–12, 2021) or because of different values, stakeholders, and actors involved (Ryan and Stahl in J Inf Commun Ethics Soc 19:61–86, 2021). Recently, these conflicts became very visible, with such examples as the dismissal of AI ethics researcher Dr. Timnit Gebru from Google and the resignation of whistle-blower Frances Haugen from Facebook. Underpinning each debacle was a conflict between the organisation’s economic and business interests and the morals of their employees. This paper will examine tensions between the ethics of AI organisations and the values of their employees, by providing an exploration of the AI ethics literature in this area, and a qualitative analysis of three workshops with AI developers and practitioners. Common ethical and social tensions (such as power asymmetries, mistrust, societal risks, harms, and lack of transparency) will be discussed, along with proposals on how to avoid or reduce these conflicts in practice (e.g., building trust, fair allocation of responsibility, protecting employees’ autonomy, and encouraging ethical training and practice). Altogether, we suggest the following steps to help reduce ethical issues within AI organisations: improved and diverse ethics education and training within businesses; internal and external ethics auditing; the establishment of AI ethics ombudsmen, AI ethics review committees and an AI ethics watchdog; as well as access to trustworthy AI ethics whistle-blower organisations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)557-572
JournalAI and Society
Issue number2
Early online date31 Mar 2022
Publication statusPublished - 2024


  • AI ethics guidelines
  • AI governance
  • Artificial intelligence
  • Big tech
  • Trustworthy AI
  • Whistle-blowing


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