The power that is created by innovations in the IT world has raised new questions into the ethical conduct of computing. Philosophers, Computer Scientists and Technical Experts are all discussing ethical concerns in great depth. Computer Ethics, Cyberethics and forms of Macroethics are being explored. New developments in technology are adding additional dimensions to previous problems.
Previous guidelines on ethical behavior for the digital world are inadequate and lack proper foundations.
The advancements in communications through convergence and globalization makes sharing knowledge possible around the world. The emerging popularity of mobile computing, e-commerce and social networking only adds a complex set of variables when dealing with ethics.
Effy Oz has written many books on information technology and in his book, Ethics for the Information Age, he wrote, “ Right and wrong depends on the society and the time in which we live.” (E. Oz.1993) The statement expressing the need for standards relating to ethics and the changing world of information technology.
The Computer Security Digest 16.2, written in June 1998, touches on key ethical issues in the IT world. Among the list are topics such as Privacy, Safety, and Piracy. The most common of the three is Piracy. For each software program sold, developers claim that another two to five copies are ‘bootlegged”.(Ethical issues.1998).
The anonymous writer also discusses Data Security and Data Integrity as areas of concern, especially in relevance to databases. Database owners store sensitive and personal information such as arrest reports, credit ratings, debt information and medical documentation. (Ethical issues.1998). Highlighting the importance of comprehensive, accurate and timely processing of data as an obligation. Competence also on the list suggesting the need for research and development to stay in sink with rapid growth in computers as a whole.
Other ethical issues to consider are Honesty, Loyalty and Fairness. These topics are difficult to process ethically, due to fluctuation in beliefs, societal abnormalities, morals and economic resources. The technology world calls for ethical reflection before consequences become visible.
Ethical issues. (1998). Computer Security Digest, 16(2), 3-5.
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|The idea of micro and macroethics
Along with the themes of integrity and Rightdoing, another set of ideas has increasingly come under discussion in research ethics, that of the distinction between micro and Macroethics. Microethics refer to those activities that occur between individuals, and this has historically been a major focus in ethics training. Macroethics refers to activities that involve larger group and societal interactions. Given the increasingly complex role of research in our society, it makes sense to enlarge our exploration of research integrity to take in macroethics.
As an example, suppose we are working on a project measuring changing acidity levels in a series of lakes. The objective reporting of data to a research supervisor would be an example of Microethics. But when we begin to consider the larger responsibilities of the research group to scientific knowledge, to the industries located near the lakes and to the public, this is Macroethics.
This idea of a dual level of ethical concern is an expansion on the idea of integrity: but we can see how Virtue Ethics continues to be part of the picture. In addition, the Kantian approach of fulfilling obligations applies, as does the Utilitarian stance of looking at the consequences as our means for defining “right action.” Increasingly, researchers are thinking about the macro ethics aspect of integrity in their work. Interestingly enough, this again brings up the issue of ambiguity: using the above example of the research into acidity levels, can we be 100% sure of the exact role of industrial waste in the changing acidity of a lake system? And this brings up as well another critical issue in research: should we publish our results before we are 100% certain of the whole picture? What is Rightdoing here?
“In short, Macroethics is the study of ethical systems appropriate to complex adaptive systems, in particular, those global integrated human/natural systems that are characteristic of the anthropogenic Earth. This is the ‘macroethical gap,’ for how to formulate ethical structures adequate for such challenges has yet to be effectively addressed…Thus the choice of the process by which the individual becomes engaged in dialogue with the system…is what becomes ethically critical…Free will and ethical responsibility in complex systems such as the Everglades thus becomes less of a point function, and more of a networked function spread over multiple spatial and temporal scales. Just as quantum mechanics did not obsolete Newtonian physics, but relegated it to a limited space (e.g. interaction of macro bodies), the traditional concept of free will is thus not obsolete, but is a bounded part of a much more complex, systems-based phenomenon.”
Allenby, Brad. Micro and Macroethics for an Anthropogenic Earth.” Professional Ethics Report, AAAS, Spring 2005. p.1-2.