"Information ethics" is a term used to describe the study and evaluation of the various ethical issues that arise in a world that is driven by the sharing of electronic data. Typically, this type of study will look closely at the morality involved in making use of the information or data, how innovations in information technology can help to promote ethical use of information, and in general identifying ways to practice workable ethics in virtual environments. From this perspective, information ethics is important to anyone who makes use of data electronically, ranging from casual users who utilize password protected email accounts to large businesses that store and share proprietary data in some type of virtual environment.
At the core of most approaches to information ethics is the process of defining what constitutes ethical behavior in terms of protecting information that only needs to be available to authorized individuals, the creation of secure means of sharing data when and as necessary, and data storage solutions that make it easy to keep data for easy retrieval when needed. These concerns can be applied to everything from protecting the security of an email account to preventing corporate espionage by setting up security protocols that prevent breaches to servers and other components in an information network. The issues that are common to information ethics often have to do with not only how to store and share data but how to prevent its use by people who should not have access to that information.
Information technology provides a number of tools that help to promote ethical use of data. As this relates to the study of information ethics, developing technology can aid in defeating the use of spyware and various forms of malware by protecting proprietary information. For example, a company may practice strong information ethics by using technology that effectively blocks hackers from breaching servers and capturing bank and credit card information collected when fulfilling customer orders. By blocking that access, the company upholds the ethical and moral responsibility to protect the information entrusted to them by their customers.
The broader scope of information ethics looks at all aspects of utilizing information in a manner that is considered moral and ethical. Just as there has always been a need to practice some degree of discretion with information that is obtained by non-electronic means, the reality of a world operating largely with the use of the Internet, private and public networks, and a huge amount of electronic data in storage, there is the need to use and protect information so that the outcome is productive and does not create undue hardship for others. From this perspective, engaging in ongoing discussions about information ethics can help companies design better information systems and also aid consumers in understanding what they can do in terms of protecting and sharing data appropriately.