What is Computer Ethics?
Computers have revolutionized business operations in almost all fields that touch on human life. In doing so, computers have raised several ethical issues ranging from invasion of privacy to occurrence of fraudulent and illegal activities. Computer ethics can be described as thorough analysis of the social impacts resulting from use of computers and associated technology and the way organizations respond through formulation of policies. Due to ever changing technology, ethics is an area that considers use of organizational data in accordance policies and procedures that govern actions. It relates to both software and hardware along with networking of computers and the computers themselves. Issues related to computer ethics arise due to policy vacuum existing in organizations that define how computer technology can effectively be used. For example, most of the ethical issues arise from privileged users who are given mandate and authority to use computers. They instead, engage in issues which raise concerns of privacy, ethical use of organization data and information technology infrastructure.
Significantly, computer ethics aims to determine how best computers should be used; this is only possible through formulation of sound policies to govern use and operations of computers. Thus, computers ethics comprise considerations of personal and social aspects connected with computers and accompanying technology. This is because despite computers making it possible for people to accomplish tasks, the thought of best possible way of their usage without raising any ethical issue continues to confront us. It has been established that most ethical policies, which help in shaping decision and actions, are founded on ethical theory frameworks (Stamatellos 45). Ethical theories provide the basis and foundation for analysis of cases and actions that confront people in day-to-day life. Moreover, they are instrumental in policy formulations that aim at understanding problems and their amicable handling.
Computer have created a state of invisibility, this is because it is often difficult to monitor individual actions. The challenge for computer ethics is to find a way out to cope with the dilemma that invisibility factor poses — providing efficiency on one hand and vulnerability of the computers on the other. Notably, computer ethics are neither inflexible set of rules nor strict application of ethical principles. Computer ethics requires people to think and evaluate actions that may degenerate into ethical issues.
Case study: Installing Programs without Licensing
This is a case developed by Olga Rosas and involves installing computer program without the requisite license. The case involves partners in business from a firm in which a supervisor asks his technician, to install a computer program, with one of the licenses from the firm, in the computer of one of their clients. The technician knows well that this action goes against ethics that govern their operations and action. This prompts the technician to advise the partner that he is not in a position to install the program in the client’s computer because it will be illegal to do so without proper licensing.
The technician recommends that it would be appropriate for the client to purchase a license if he wishes to install the program in his computer. However, the boss responds by saying that the client is important to the company to the extent that his wishes must be accommodated. Moreover, the boss counters assertions of the technician arguing that the client is not interested in buying the program together with the license, though he may do so later. Here, the boss looks at the short-term fulfillment of business goals by appeasing the client while the technician knows well that installing the program without legitimate license is antithetical to ethical conduct. The technician finds himself in a dilemma as to whether comply with his boss or uphold his ethical responsibility.
Ethical Analysis of the Case
Ethically, when a computer program is purchased, the concerned individual or company automatically becomes a licensed user. Moreover, license agreement must be obtained as it provides specific conditions for use of the computer program which the user is supposed to accept, if prompted. The case highlights a single-user computer program that can only be used in one computer. Specifically, if it appertains to single license, then users are prohibited from installing the same on other computers, make duplicate copies, or sell the software to another party. The technician is aware that it is illegal to do so but is compelled to abide by the instructions of the boss. The case raises two computer ethical issues that are, ownership and liability.
When the technician installs the computer program to another computer, he transfers ownership of the program and its use illegally. The main issue here is unauthorized provision of computer programs; just as in case of a book, its value is intellectual and not material. Computer program developers spend a lot of time to come up with software and their efforts should not be allowed to go in vain. This is only possible through licensing of programs, so that the developers are adequately compensated. Ethically, installation of a program to a client’s computer without license will deprive developers their legitimate due, which is unjustified and wrong.
Secondly, licensing removes liability of a company towards a customer if a particular program causes damages to the computer. When proper licensing is done, a company will be free from such liability by simply claiming it from the firm holding the license. This saves the company from legal implications arising out of use of defective computer programs.
Stamatellos, Giannis. Computer Ethics: A Global Perspective. Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett