Public Interest Technology
[A medley of diverse tech fellows and tech inequality experts from all over the world.]
Matt Mitchell: Hi. I’m Matt, and I’m a hacker.
Suchana Seth: I’m Suchana, I’m a data scientist, and I’m a champion for data for good.
Sid Rao: My superpower is to help you protect your digital privacy.
Eireann Leverett: As a technologist, you don’t always have to work to defend the powerful, to defend the companies, to defend the traditional bases of power and influence in the world.
[Animation of a computer appears on screen. Hands type: “Since 2015, the Ford Foundation and the Mozilla Foundation have provided fellowships to technology experts to work with organizations advancing social justice”.]
Etienne Maynier: Because there is surveillance everywhere, because there is exclusion of a lot of people, because there is a strong inequality to how we access and understand technology, it won’t improve our society if we don’t fight for a better society with technology.
Berhan Taye Gemeda: I came into this fellowship and tried to understand what does it mean to be a technologist in a social justice space, who are the communities that we’re trying to serve, and how can we best serve them?
Sid Rao: As a public interest technologist, we have to bridge the gap between what technologists are trying to build and what social scientists are trying to solve.
Jennifer Helsby: I worked on a technology project called SecureDrop, which is an anonymous whistle-blowing platform. It’s a critical tool for journalists, just like an anonymous tip line.
Sid Rao: I built a tool which anyone can use to see how their Internet service providers can see what they’re doing, and how they can build a digital persona.
Matt Mitchell: It’s important that people know that it’s not a matter of if you will be hacked as an organization, it’s a matter of when. Which is why, as an organization, you need to have an incident response plan. “When this happens, we do this, and then if this happens, we bring it back down a step.”
Eireann Leverett: Even if you’re not a technologist, you should have opinions about how technology is used in society and has magnifying bias.
Steffania Paolo Costa Di Albanez: The way in which technologies are being developed—they are being developed by default with preconceived biased algorithms.
Suchana Seth: The other critical piece is to educate data scientists about the ways we have developed to identify and measure and correct algorithmic bias. How do we educate them about different kinds of fairness, metrics, and what’s the right way to apply them?
[Animation of a person at a computer. A thought bubble appears asking the question, “Can computers be racist?”.]
Jennifer Helsby: In the future, I hope that the field of public interest technology can be seen on par with going to Google or Facebook or another tech giant.
Matt Mitchell: There are way too few of us doing social good work. It’s something that we need to develop and raise up.
Suchana Seth: And it’s up to technologists like us, who care about social good, to keep reminding everyone about this, and to keep demonstrating through our work that technology can indeed make a difference.
[Ford Foundation logo: a globe made up of a series of small, varied circles. Mozilla logo.]
- All videos produced by the Ford Foundation since 2020 include captions and downloadable transcripts. For videos where visuals require additional understanding, we offer audio-described versions.
- We are continuing to make videos produced prior to 2020 accessible.
- Videos from third-party sources (those not produced by the Ford Foundation) may not have captions, accessible transcripts, or audio descriptions.
Technology is transforming every area of our lives. But as it opens new avenues and shows us fresh possibilities, tech can also deepen existing inequalities. We believe in harnessing technology to serve justice and the public interest—and we see a wealth of opportunities to do so.
That’s why we’re working with a community of partners to develop a path for people to use their technology skills to change the world for the better: the professional field of public interest technology.
To thrive, it needs the talent and dedication of people across academia, civil society, government and private sectors. Which one are you?
The above examples represent leaders in the Public Interest Tech community and is not exhaustive.
Public interest technology
is about all of us.
Public interest technology is just what it sounds like—technology used to serve the public good. That can mean working to ensure that as the U.S. census goes online for the first time, it is accessible and accurate. It can mean researching the negative side effects of using artificial intelligence in our criminal justice system, or even developing technical standards that emphasize privacy and free expression.
Increasingly, people want to play a role in solving the world’s problems—from income inequality to health disparities, discrimination, and the impacts of climate change. In a recent survey, more than 90 percent of millennials said they want to use their skills for good. More than half of those surveyed report that they would take a pay cut for work that aligns with their values.
When it comes to tech, social justice organizations can’t afford to opt out. To have real impact, organizations need to be savvy about how they use technology. With the constant churn and change in tech tools, this can be daunting. But failing to take technology seriously can devastate organizations, leaving data and security vulnerable—and leaving powerful opportunities for impact on the table.
Learn more about the individuals and organizations growing the field of public interest technology below.