The term computer ethics was coined first in the 1970s by Walter Maner and it is only in the 1990s that the term found its way into professional development programs. Ethics refers to standards, rules, or behavioral codes that guide people on how they are supposed to behave in various situations and therefore computer ethics are the rules and standards that are supposed to be followed by all computer users irrespective of their profession, social status and localities. Computer ethics is also a philosophical branch that deals with how professionals should conduct themselves when it comes to computer use.
This research paper will basically focus on all issues surrounding computer ethics. It will give various definitions as different writers have defined it.
The paper will start by defining the term and will then proceed to discuss issues that surround computer ethics and ends with a short recap of the key points that have been discussed. In the very last page of this paper is a list of all the sources that have been consulted properly formatted in accordance with APA formatting style.
As a field of inquiry, computer ethics originated from the works of Norbert Weiner, A professor in MIT who visualized the ethical and social consequences arising from information technology in the 1940s. In the following decade, Don Parker studied unethical computerized activities but like Weiner, he neither used nor mentioned in his study the term computer ethics. The term came into use with the work of Walter Maner where he studied the ethical consequences attributed to computer revolution or technology. It was James Moor in his article entitled ‘What is computer ethics?’ that provided the proper definition of the term. He tried to present some ethical problems in his work that are associated with the advent of computer technology (Bynum, 1985: 165).
There are various definitions of computer ethics according to different authors. Some define it as a branch of philosophical study that deals with ethical issues surrounding computer use but according to Moor, computer ethics refers to, “analysis of the nature and social impact of computer technology and the corresponding formulation and justification of policies for the ethical use of such technology” (Stamatellos, 2007: 2). Computer ethics as per Stamatellos (2007: 3) denotes a systematic study of ethical and social impacts brought about by the advent of computers into the society.
Computer technology is no doubt the height of civilization in terms of technological advancement and it shows how man has become more ingenuous and sophisticated. Computer has made work easier and it provides one with a range of options in executing programs but apart from this, there are a bunch of ethical questions that arise from its usage. Computer ethical questions arise when there appears to be a policy vacuum in the ways people handle this technology. It is a basic requirement that any field of study, companies and institutions among others to have codes of behavior and computer technology being a field of inquiry is no exception. The codes of ethics are guidelines about how people should behave themselves professionally and failure to comply to them impacts negatively on individuals and the society at large something that leads to the emergence of computer ethical questions.
As a branch of philosophical inquiry according to Forester and Morrison (1993: 17), computer ethics deals with rules, policies and various legislations concerning computers. It also concerns itself with available ethical alternatives and social implications that arise from computer technology. Examples of computer ethics related questions involves the acquisition of computers and other related gadgets such as hardware and software, information storage devices and the security of the information stored, data dissemination through digital means, data procession and how people interact with one another through computers. Questions about computer ethics focus on, and call for computer accountability and responsibility in its usage.
Ethical questions are something that leave many at crossroads as people are not very sure of how to behave or what they are supposed to do when computer related problems arise. Many people find themselves in a dilemma when their computers crash due to technical problems and they start asking themselves who should be blamed for that problem. Is it the programmer, the designer of the system, software installer or themselves? It is ethically right for any computer company to give computer owners a guarantee of a certain period so that if their systems malfunction, they can either be replaced or repaired without being charged (Murad, 1995).
Another computer ethics issue that arises is over the storage of information on the computer. Ethical question that arise is how secure are individuals’ or companies’ information is secure when stored on computers and on other computer assisted storage devices. The question is whether people should rely on their computers as safe means of storing information. If the information stored is accessed from the computer without any authorization by the person who stored that information, who is to blame? Information that is not intended to be accessed by everybody is in most cases protected using a password. No one should try to access information that is not meant for him/her as this is committing a computer crime and it calls the question of computer ethics. There are also hackers who intercept e-mails while they are being sent and yet they are not the intended recipients. They may disclose information that was supposed to remain a secret or distort the content of the information something that can impact negatively on the targeted individuals and the society at large (Deborah, 2001: 56). It is morally wrong to access information that is computer protected without authorization as that is lack of computer ethics which require one to access only what is meant for them and not to hack personal and company details.
According to Herman (2004: 32), computers require software for them to work properly. It takes the ingenuity of software developers to come up with such programs and computer users are supposed to respect intellectual right by making sure that they only buy genuine software. There are others who sell pirated software thereby ripping the benefits that are meant for the developer. This is indirectly kills their creativity. Hackers are also not left behind in this as they look for fake activation codes and sell these programs as if they are theirs’. Also there are those who deliberately go for pirated software to avoid paying much and this calls the question of computer ethics. It is ethically wrong to install hacked software in ones computer as this is lack of appreciation to the work of the developer of the program and that amounts to computer crime (Stamatellos 2007: 43).
There are other people who spread malicious programs to innocent people without their knowledge mostly through e-mails and through other infected software. This also amounts to computer crime as some of these programs accesses stored information and sends it to the ‘thief’ or hacker. There are others who crash the whole system by using malicious programs which are commonly known as virus so that you can buy counter programs such as antivirus so as to make profit. Should people really be doing that at the expense of innocent computer users? This is ethically wrong and the behavior should be condemned.
Computer ethics is a recent topic. Though various studies concerning ethics in computer were studied, the term was yet to be coined. It was coined first by Maner and it came to be applied in professional development programs in 1970s. Computer ethics is all about the rules, standards and behavior codes pertaining computer use. There are a number of issues where computer ethics arise for example there are people who develop malicious programs to crash other people’s computers, others access stored information by hacking into password protected computers, others copy software instead of buying original products and this amounts to piracy while others hack software activation codes only to sell them as if they are theirs and this is a computer crime. This kills the motivation of those developers as their intellectual property right is not respected and the hacker rips the benefits that were meant for the program developer.
Bynum, T. Ward (1985) Computers and Ethics. A special issue of the journal Metaphilosophy. Blackwell. 164-178.
Deborah G. Johnson (2001) Computer Ethics. Prentice Hall.
Forester, Tom and Morrison, Perry. (1993) Computer ethics: cautionary tales and ethical dilemmas in computing. 2nd Ed, MIT Press.
Herman T. Tavani (2004). Ethics and Technology: Ethical Issues in an Age of Information and Communication Technology. John Wiley and Sons, Inc.
Murad, Laith. (1995) Computer Ethics Accessed on April 1, 2009 from http://www.geocities.com/lool95/computer_ethics1.htm
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. (2008) Computer and Information Ethics. Accessed from http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/ethics-computer/#DefComEth
Stamatellos, Giannis. (2007) Computer ethics: a global perspective. Jones and Bartlett Publishers.
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