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What Are Computer Ethics?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 13 November 2016
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    Conjecture Corporation
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Computer ethics refers to ethical principles focused on how end users, programmers, and others who are involved with the use and development of computer programs and equipment choose to conduct themselves when making use of computer technology. This includes how these individuals choose to conduct themselves and their use of programs and other computer resources in an online environment. Ethics of this type are often concerned with issues such as privacy rights, respect for intellectual property, and in general translating the moral principles that are commonly found in any code of ethics to a computer based environment.

As with any type of ethical code, computer ethics has to do not only choosing to engage in certain actions but also to refrain from others. For example, these ethics would compel users to share data that is considered in the public domain with others. At the same time, those same ethics would preclude sharing data that is considered proprietary. From this perspective, computer ethics can be seen as doing the right thing at the right time.

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There are a number of issues that require the use of computer ethics. For example, proper ethics would call for not duplicating and distributing proprietary software to others, without the express permission of the entity holding the copyright to that software. In the case of intellectual property, individuals who have access to that property along with permission to use that data as part of their work would not pass that information on to others that were not authorized. This means that if a program is developed for use in-house by a company, employees will not share that program with anyone outside the business unless permission is granted.

Computer ethics applies to anyone who uses a computer. This means that individuals who wish to practice ethical behavior will not attempt to access the email accounts of others without permission, engage in unauthorized hacking activities, and will not make any attempt to secure proprietary data for the purpose of exploiting that data. Just as general ethics requires that people not attempt to gain access to private documents of others, this same concept translates into the electronic world, with users choosing to respect the privacy of everyone else who makes use of electronic technology.

Breaches in computer ethics are sometimes addressed by laws and regulations, but at other times may not be offenses that can easily be prosecuted. The fact that there are those who choose to not practice ethical behavior when using computer systems is evidenced by the ever growing demand for antivirus software, spyware protection programs, and other resources designed to prevent unauthorized access to data. As with any code of ethics, computer ethics focuses on dealing honestly and openly with others, respecting boundaries, and in general observing the rights of others to keep their information private if they so choose.

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fify
Post 6

Of course, there should be computer ethics. I've been a victim of credit card fraud because of online shopping and it's a horrible thing to go through. I don't want anyone to have access to my personal information.

At the same time, I heard in the news about hacker groups in the world who are hacking into government systems in some countries as a movement to protest dictatorships and oppressive regimes. This is not ethical either, but it's kind of cool. So I guess "ethical" can be a subjective issue.

bluedolphin
Post 5

@burcidi-- You have a good point. It's not easy to impose computer ethics but I think that it is possible to some degree. The US government can impose rules on computer users in the US and I think it does, but not enough.

I heard that anti-virus companies develop new computer viruses and then sell the anti-virus to make money. If we're going to talk about computer ethics, we need to start with these companies. I would like to see this practice come to an end.

burcidi
Post 4

Is the whole concept of computer ethics even realistic? Who decides what the ethical rules of a virtual world will be? What's more important is, who is going to impose these rules? I think it's all kind of useless. You can't control the internet.

indigomoth
Post 3

@pastanaga - The problem is that a vigilante like that is still acting outside the law. If you can justify that, it's only a short step towards justifying other kinds of privacy breaches and eventually no one will be able to use the internet without being completely paranoid.

pastanaga
Post 2

@Mor - That's why a lot of phones now have a noise that sounds when someone is taking a photo and which cannot be turned off. But computers can be even more dangerous in that sense. I know there are people out there who infect computers with viruses that allow them to control the computer virtually.

So, they can do things like turn the video camera on without the person knowing, or look through or change their files, or steal their identity.

I mean, this is something that seems easy to identify as wrong, but I've also heard of people who deliberately put viruses like this into child porn websites, so they can follow people who visit those websites and report them to the police.

Mor
Post 1

This has become so complicated these days, when most people carry a personal computer around in their pocket and don't think anything of it.

I was reading an article the other day about how a high school student had their phone confiscated by their teacher, who found questionable photos on it and called the police. There were some people in the comment section questioning whether or not the teacher had the right to look in the phone in the first place.

But schools have to be aware of the fact that students will do things like take pictures under the skirts of their classmates without their consent. I don't think it's unreasonable for a school to basically say, any phone you have at school is essentially the same as your locker, and we have the right to look through it at any time.

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