The advent of computers and the Internet has changed the way we communicate, learn, and do business. It has created new dynamics and interactions and with it, new ethical dilemmas.
The first time ethics as in 'Computer Ethics' is mentioned was in 1976 by a professor at Bowling Green State University by the name of Dr. Walter Maner. However, the concept had existed as early as the 1950s, when MIT professor Robert Weiner published a book titled Cybernetics.
It's a theory of practical philosophy that takes a look at what developers and users can do with computers, contrasted to what they should. It also analyzes the moral and social acceptability of actions that happen strictly online, but can also have offline repercussions.
For example, Google keeps a record of every search you have done, when you did that search, and what links you clicked. So, the ethical dilemma becomes if it's morally justifiable or socially tolerable that one company can have such access to something you consider being a private activity. Can the fact it may help identify and capture dangerous criminals make it acceptable?
Similarly, the download of music or other copyrighted media is a heavily contested issue of computer ethics. Is it acceptable for a person to permanently share music with a friend, or does it constitute theft as argued by the music industry? If it does constitute theft, is the responsibility with the one who shared, the one who received, or the online service?
Computer ethics is not a clear cut set of values, by any stretch. While some organizations have published basic standards and codes of ethics, the field itself is more a branch of philosophical thought than a list of industry accepted principles.
What is ethical computing?
Ethical computing is a system of moral principles a person should follow while using a computer at their home, school, and office. The Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility has developed the following Ten Commandments of Computer Ethics as a guideline of how to be ethical on your computer.
Ten Commandments of Computer Ethics
- Thou shalt not use a computer to harm other people.
- Thou shalt not interfere with other people's computer work.
- Thou shalt not snoop around in other people's computer files.
- Thou shalt not use a computer to steal.
- Thou shalt not use a computer to bear false witness.
- Thou shalt not copy or use proprietary software you have not purchased.
- Thou shalt not use other people's computer resources without authorization or proper compensation.
- Thou shalt not appropriate other people’s intellectual output.
- Thou shalt think about the social consequences of the program you are writing or the system you are designing.
- Thou shalt always use a computer in ways that insure consideration and respect for your fellow humans.