1a. Companies monitoring employees’ interactions online during work hours.
Utilitarianism weighs the morality or ethics of an action through its contribution or impact to the overall system. An action is deemed right if it is for the good of the many. So long as the result is good, the processes or methods used wouldn’t matter. Applying this point of view to the situation described, the reason for the company’s monitoring would matter. If the company’s objective is to increase productivity or prevent wasting of company resources, then, the action is ethical. By monitoring online interactions, the utilitarian point of view argues that the entire organization would benefit by curtailing unnecessary activities during work hours.
The rights-based perspective holds that a human being has rights that must be respected, promoted and protected at all times. Applying this to the situation, the company’s action would be viewed as unethical because the act of monitoring is in violation of the employees’ basic right to privacy. Although, the monitoring is during work hours, the company is only paying for the amount of work that an employee must produce during that period. The employment does not include spying on personal activities. When employee output is affected, then, management must discuss with employee on how to remedy the problem.
In this situation, it would be better to use the rights-based perspective in order to avoid violating employees’ right to keep their online activities to themselves. As long as the company’s overall productivity won’t be affected, there is no reason to keep tab of online interactions.
2a. Using Peer to Peer software (such as LimeWire, Torrent, etc…) to download music, movies etc…
From the utilitarian’s point of view, using peer to peer software is ethical because it would allow for sharing of software, music, or movies among members of a network. Everyone will save on costs. By sharing your data with other users, you are promoting good for the entire network. This type of relationship recognizes exclusive authorship but not exclusive rights to the property. For instance, the open source community creates, develops and enhances applications to be shared for free with everyone who can’t afford to buy proprietary materials. In the same manner, peer to peer software’s goal is to give the most number of people access to materials that may otherwise be difficult for them to obtain.
From a rights-based perspective, sharing of software is not wrong as long as copyrights are not violated. Or it is not unethical if the sharing is limited to work files or other materials that are not proprietary. But if sharing means using unlicensed software, unpaid for music or movies, then, from this view point, the action is unethical. The sharing would be equivalent to stealing. It is depriving from the artist or the owners’ of the software their right to earn from the property you have shared with other people.
In this instance, a combination of the two perspectives would be useful. For open source materials or movies and other files that are not proprietary, it is best to apply utilitarianism. However, when copyrights are already involved, the rights-based perspective would be applicable.
1c. Using blocking software by parents to control the contents viewed by children at home.
When parents control the contents of what children could view in the Internet using a blocking software, the utilitarian point of view would find this action ethical. The parents’ intention is good, making the means inconsequential. They do not want the kids to be exposed to pornographic or violent materials that proliferate the Web. Protection against bad influences is the goal of this action. The parents are doing this not for their own good but for the good of their children.
The rights-based perspective would argue that what the parents are doing is unethical. They are not promoting the rights of the kids to access content that they want to see. By blocking certain sites and content, the right to information is being kept from the kids. The parents are essentially restricting the rights of human beings, and are relegating the children into a lower strata. Children, despite being young, have rights similar to adults. They must be allowed to have access to whatever content they would want to view and read.
In this scenario, the utilitarian point of view would result to an ethical decision in contrast to the rights-based perspective. Children may have rights but being young, they need guidance in order not get corrupted at an early age. Information comes in many forms and must be screened before being shown to a young audience. Children’s minds are easily influenced and if left on their own could result to psychological abnormalities and distorted thinking in later years.
1d. Addressing someone you know by full name in a discussion forum where the only identification posters provide are their nicknames.
Addressing a person by his full name in a forum is ethical from a utilitarian point of view. This perspective would argue that by disclosing the information to everyone in the forum, people will know who that poster is. If for example that particular person is being a nuisance, then, it would be easy for the site administrator to identify and issue a warning to the person, saving the other forum posters from getting annoyed. In another example, the full name disclosure would encourage other posters to disclose their names and create a better camaraderie among them.
From the rights-based perspective, calling a person by his full name when everybody else is anonymous is a violation of his right to privacy. It would put the person at a disadvantage and would make him feel vulnerable. Nobody would want to feel that way even if the conversation is just on the Web. It could also result to some form of embarrassment for that particular individual. It would even endanger the person because the Internet is ripe with all sorts of mischiefs. Or it could make the person the target of all marketing campaigns.
In this instance, the rights-based perspective would promote an ethical result. When everyone is using aliases, they are doing so for their own private reasons. Their right to keep their names from people they haven’t met must be respected. Every forum poster has the right to choose whether to let the other posters know his real identity or not.
2. The widespread use of search engines is endangering the privacy of individuals all over the globe. Knowingly or unknowingly, people will leave identifiable traces on the Web that could be used by other parties to their own advantage. Online search engines play a direct and indirect roles in violating people’s privacy.
In an age of electronic gadgets and Internet capabilities, data storage has taken a new turn. Information, from company files to personal ones are converted into electronic codes for
easy retrieval and data management. Internet service providers have billions of information in their machines that they keep to primarily provide its users whatever information they need to have. These information are mostly kept in secure places that only certain individuals have access to. Sometimes, these information are made public without a fee, but with some measures in place to keep pertinent data private. In other times, these data can be stolen and sold to other parties for a fee. There are computer geniuses who like to have fun by hacking into private networks and getting information from them. There are also tools, like spy wares and worms, that were developed to infiltrate secure systems and obtain personal information like names,
e-mail addresses and phone numbers.
Among the many privacy issues that are associated with search engines are:
l search engines, like Google, have records of every inquiry that a user has ever made
l search engines use the searches in their database to create a detailed profile of people,
l Internet address or IP address
l capacity to retrieve information that are personally identifiable.
Search engines are the primary tools used by people when accessing content in the Internet. According to the Electronic Privacy Information Center, in the United States alone, about 10 billion inquiries were made in January 2008. From these inquiries, the search engines can already collect details concerning the persons who made the searches, from their Internet Protocol address to the browser they are using. These profiles could even include the name of a person’s dog, or his favorite shampoo. These information can be used to potentially identify the users. Just imagine the wealth of information at the disposal of search engines. Commentator Bill Thomson, cited in Sullivan (2003), disclosed that Google has built user profiles based on all the searches made on its engine. Another privacy issue that Google has is its Google Earth application (Meller, 2007). This allows users to view specific locations that Google has recorded using satellite imaging. This could encourage people to spy on others.
There are also instances when a person is tempted to search for his full name just to see whether the Internet has a record of anything associated with him. Some may even search for their full social security numbers to check if there breaches in other networks. Others may even type their user names, passwords, account numbers, credit card numbers and other highly confidential information. These are highly inadvisable because doing so would let the search engine know who you are exactly. It would also cause some people to commit mischief or even steal your money. Dixon (2008) advises that people should refrain from inputting these type of data, or if they really need to, they must only type part of those information.
Laing (2008) relates that AOL has made about 658,000 search records from its engine available to people conducting research. Although most of the data are anonymous and did not provide IP addresses, some organizations were able to identify users’ names. Laing says that a New York Times editor was able to identify people by simply typing some information about them. Despite the measures implemented by AOL to protect users’ identities, some people were still able to obtain personal information.
Detailed profiles of people can be used by marketers to identify behavioral patterns. Companies who are into Internet advertising collect data and user information that they can use to their advantage. Information could include items that people buy, the sites they visit, the kind of movies they look for, and other sorts of personal data. Also, since medical and hospital records are already in electronic form, there is a big probability that these information would find their ways in search engines, such that a person’s illnesses, religion, investments, political inclination, and sexual preferences will be revealed to a research pro. In the absence of regulatory legislation, marketers are able to monitor their target market without getting permission. These information, along with IP addresses will be linked to e-mail addresses or names for sending of marketing mails.
Personal information can also be stored in search engine databases when a person, for example, orders something from an online bookstore that has to be delivered to his home address. The name, telephone number, cellphone number, credit card number, and shipping address are information that are very useful to marketers. This will result to unsolicited mails, and even phone calls in the middle of the night from agents selling one service or another. There are companies that gather this kind of information, compile them into a list and sell them to interested buyers. In some websites that ask for e-mail addresses, the most likely result is for that person to receive numerous marketing mails in the coming days.
Dixon, P. (2008, July 14). Search Engine Privacy Tips. World Privacy Forum. Retrieved August 20, 2008, from http://www.worldprivacyforum.org/searchengineprivacytips.html
Electronic Privacy Information Center. Search Engine Privacy. Retrieved August 20, 2008, from http://epic.org/privacy/search_engine/
Laing, N. (2008, May 2). Unpacking Privacy Issues: The All Knowing Search Engines. Bell Gully. Retrieved August 20, 2008, from http://www.bellgully.com/resources/resource.01701.asp
Meller, P. (2007, June 22). EU Examines Search Engines and Privacy Issues. PCWorld. Retrieved August 20, 2008, from http://www.pcworld.com/article/133288/
Online Tracking: How Anonymous is the Internet? Personally Identifying Information. Retrieved August 20, 2008, from http://www.slais.ubc.ca/COURSES/libr500
Sullivan, D. (2003, April 2). Search Privacy At Google & Other Search Engines. Search Engine Watch. Retrieved August 20, 2008, from
University of Minnesota: Human Rights Resource Center. Developing a Rights-Based Perspective. Retrieved August 20, 2008, from