What Is the Role of Privacy in Computer Ethics?

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  • Written By: Esther Ejim
  • Edited By: Kaci Lane Hindman
  • Last Modified Date: 26 March 2014
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Privacy in computer ethics refers to the ethical dilemmas that computer users face in some situations that may lead to the violation of another person’s privacy through the use of computers. Ethics is a reference to a sense of what is right and wrong. The concept of ethics with regards to computers was pioneered by Nobert Weiner, a professor at Massachusetts’s Institute of Technology (MIT) in the early part of the 1940 decade. During this period, Weiner was involved in a project that led him to come to the conclusion that the development of computers and their widespread use would open the door to serious ethical and social issues. This gives an idea of the scope of privacy in computer ethics.


An example of the application of privacy in computer ethics is the monitoring of employees' work computers. The question that arises in this instance is whether it is right for employers to surreptitiously monitor the activities of their employees as regards to the manner in which they are using computers while at work. Some people are of the opinion that the employee is on the company’s time, using the company’s computers, and as such, should be engaged only in company-related activities. Others feel that it is an ethical violation of the privacy of the employees for the company to initiate procedures that involve spying on their employees. In this instance, the answer to the dilemma regarding the application of privacy in computer ethics is not as clear-cut as some would like it to be, because there are arguments for and against the monitoring of computers while employees are at work.

Another scenario in which the issue of privacy in computer ethics could arise is in the use of other people’s computers. When someone is using another person’s computer, simple morality demands that the a person should not go through private items on the computer. Such a behavior is firmly a violation of privacy in computer ethics. Looking at items like files saved on the computer that include pictures, documents and music would be a violation of privacy.

A violation of privacy in computer ethics also applies to the sending of tracking cookies, adware and malware to monitor the way someone uses the Internet. Such programs are created to compile a record and analysis of the different Web sites an individual visits online. These types of programs are mainly used by various companies and marketers to track a person’s computer usage for purposes that include collection of data and also to send specific ads to that user.


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