Ethics are moral principles, which control the behaviour of an individual or a group; hence, computer ethics are moral principles that control the use of computers and the web. This paper will tackle issues concerning computer ethics. Some of those issues include, concerns about privacy, intellectual property rights, and how computers influence the society. For instance, whilst it is very simple to duplicate copyrighted digital or electronic contents, computer ethics proposes that it is incorrect to do so without the approval of the original author. In addition, it may be probable to access personal information about an individual on a computer system or on the web; the computer ethics advises that it is unethical to access someone’s personal information. As technology keeps on pressing forward, computers also continue to have a stronger and a greater impact on the society than in the past. As a result, computer ethics encourages the conversation or debate of how much influence that the computers should hold in certain areas for example, human communication, and artificial intelligence. As the computer world continues to evolve, also computer ethics keeps on creating ethical standards that are going to address new matters caused by new technologies (Forester, and Morrison, 1990).
In mid twentieth century, innovation and technology development in philosophy and science led to the need of creating a new branch of ethics. This would later become computer ethics or information ethics. The person who started this new philosophical field a scholar from the United States called Norbert Wiener, a mathematics and engineering professor from MIT. In the time of the Second World War, Weiner and other colleagues from the U. S. and the Great Britain helped in the development of other powerful and new technologies, and electronic computers. While still engaged in the war, Weiner and his colleagues developed a branch of applied science that they named cybernetics. Even in the insecurity and panic that was there during the war, Weiner forecasted enormous ethical and social implications of cybernetic together with electronic computers. He envisaged that after the Second World War, the world would experience another industrial revolution that would have a vast potential for evil and good. Furthermore, he said that this would generate astounding opportunities and ethical challenges. Weiner published three books in which he explores numerous ethical issues that information technology and computers would probably generate. The issues in those books include computers and unemployment, computer professionals’ responsibility, computers and security, computers and religion, computers for people with disabilities, information globalization and networks, teleporting, virtual communities, robot ethics, merging of machines with human bodies, artificial intelligence and other subjects.
Computers and web ethics topics
Computers in workplace
A computer is a universal tool which in principle, it can perform about any task assigned to it. This is an obvious threat to jobs and employment. Although the computers occasionally need some repair, they don not need sleep, they don not get hungry or tired, computers do not go home because of illness or take some time off for relaxation and rest. In addition, computers are more efficient than people are in performing numerous tasks. Consequently, the economic motivations to replace human beings with computerized machines and devices are high. Without a doubt, in the developed world many employees have already lost their jobs because of computerized machines and devices. These people include bank tellers, telephone operators, typists, autoworkers, assembly-line workers, graphic artists, security guards, and many others are continuing to lose their jobs today. Furthermore, even other professionals such as medical doctors, teachers, lawyers, psychologists, and accountants are finding that nowadays computers can carry out many of their professional duties effectively (Nissenbaum, 1997).
The service outlook, however, is not that bad. For instance, the reality that the computer business has already generated a broad range of new careers is a good thing. Some of these careers include software engineers, webmasters, hardware engineers, systems analysts, computer sales clerks, teachers of information technology, and so on. Therefore, it emerges that, in a short while the unemployment generated by computers will be a vital social problem, but after some time the information technology industry will generate more jobs than it eliminates (Gorniak-Kocikowska, 2007).
Even when a computer does not eliminate someone’s job completely, it can radically alter it. For instance, airplane pilots still sit at the cockpit where they control commercial aircrafts; but during much time of the flight, the pilot just watches as a computer does much of his or her work. In a similar situation, those employees who prepare food and beverages in restaurants or manufacture goods in factories still have their jobs; but often these people simply push buttons or switches and start watching as the computerized machines and devices performing their needed tasks. This trend makes it possible for computers to de-skill the workers. They turn turning into button pushers and passive observers. However, this picture is not very bad since computers have also created new jobs that require sophisticated skills to complete. For instance, computers have assisted surgeons in keyhole surgery and drafting (Forester, and Morrison, 1990).
Another important workplace issue is the one that concerns safety and health. Forester and Morrison point out that when people or employers introduce information technology in a place of work, it is vital to consider possible impacts on the health and work satisfaction of employees who will use the technology. It is likely, for instance, that such employees will feel strained trying to cope with computerized machines and devices with high speed. Another possibility of a hazard in the workplace is that, employees may get some injuries by repeatedly doing the same thing. In addition, the health of the workers may be at risk due to radiation originating from computer monitors (Forester, and Morrison, 1990).
Computer or cyber crimes
In this age of international spying by computer hackers who may be thousands of kilometers away, and computer viruses, it is certainly clear that the security of computers is a topic of great concern in the area of Computer Ethics. Mostly, the problem does not concern the physical security of computer hardware, but rather its logical security. Computer security is divided into five aspects: confidentiality and privacy, unimpaired services, data integrity that involves the assurance that no one can modify programs and data with no proper authority. The other two aspects include the control of access to resources, and consistency, which is the assurance that behavior and data that we see today will not be and different tomorrow (Spafford, Heaphy, & Ferbrache, 1989).
Spiteful types of programmed threats or software offer a considerable challenge to the security of computer. These include, viruses that cannot run properly on their own, but they rather use other computer programs. Another threat is the one brought by worms, these worms can move from one computer or a machine to the other machine across networks. The worms may have some parts of themselves operating on different computers or machines. Others are the Trojan horses that usually appear to be programs, but they are doing some damage behind the scenes. Logic bombs on the other hand usually checks for particular conditions then they start executing their damage when the conditions arise. Finally, there are rabbits or bacteria, which multiply rapidly, hence filling the memory computers (Gorniak-Kocikowska, 2007).
Another big risk to the security of computers is the hacker. This person is the one who breaks into the computer system of another person without permission. Some of these hackers steal data commit vandalism or steals data intentionally. Other hackers simply explore the computer system to see how the system works and what data it contains. The hackers who are explorers repeatedly claim to be compassionate freedom fighters and defenders against swindles by major organizations or undercover work by government agents. These self-styled vigilantes of cyberspace often say that they do no harm when they hack in a computer system. On the contrary, they claim to be helping the society by revealing security risks. Nevertheless, every act of hacking no matter for what cause is very harmful. This is because any identified successful infiltration of a computer system calls for the owner of the system to check for lost or damaged data and programs. Yet if the system hacker did certainly make no changes on the data or programs, the owner of the computer must go through an expensive and lengthy investigation of the system that the hacker has compromised (Nissenbaum, 1997).
Anonymity and privacy
Anonymity and privacy is one of earliest ethics on computers and the web to awaken the interest of privacy by the public. For instance, in mid-1960s the United States government had already created large files of information about its private citizens. This information includes tax records, census data, welfare records, military service records, and so on. The United States Congress introduced bills to assign its citizen a personal identification number, and then collect all the government’s information about all citizens under the matching identification number. A public protest concerning big-brother government forced the Congress to do away with this plan, and this led the president of the U. S. to appoint committees to propose privacy legislation. Near the beginning of 1970s, major privacy laws about were passed in America. Since then, the threat on computer privacy has stayed as a subject of public worry. The efficiency and ease with which computer networks and computers can be useful in gathering, storing comparing, searching, retrieving, and sharing personal data make the computer technology threatening. This threat targets a person who may want to keep various types of sensitive information, for example, medical records out of the community domain or out of those who are person perceives to be a potential threat. In the past decade, rapid growth and commercialization of the internet, the ascend of the world-wide-web, the rising user-friendliness and the processing power of machines and computers, and decreasing expenses of computer technology have brought new privacy concerns, such as data matching, data-mining, click trails recording of on the web , etc (Spafford, Heaphy, & Ferbrache, 1989).
The assortment of matters related to privacy caused by computer technology has led other thinkers and philosophers to re-examine the idea of privacy itself. Since mid-1960s, for instance, a number of different intellectuals have elaborated a privacy theory defined as the control over personal data. On the other hand, philosopher Moor has argued that the control of personal information is not sufficient to protect or establish privacy, and one can define the idea of privacy itself in terms of restricted access to computers and personal data, not control (Moor, 2005). In addition, scholar Nissenbaum has disputed that there is even a sense of privacy in circumstances other than intimate ones or in public spaces. He continues to say that a sufficient definition of privacy must take into account the privacy in public. As computer technology advances rapidly, hence creating ever-new potentials for storing, accessing compiling, and analyzing data, then these philosophical debates concerning the meaning of privacy will most likely continue in years to come.
Questions concerning anonymity on the web or internet sometimes have the same context of discussion with matters concerning the internet and privacy. This is so because anonymity can offer many of the same advantages as privacy can offer. For instance, if an individual is using the web or the internet to obtain psychological counseling or medical help, or to discuss sensitive issues such as abortion, AIDS, venereal disease, gay rights, political dissent etc. then that person can afford similar protection to the one about privacy. Likewise, both privacy and anonymity on the web or the internet can be quite helpful in the preservation of humanity values such as mental health, security, peace of mind, and self-fulfillment. It is unfortunate that those people who may want to do undesirable and unwanted activities such as drug trading, money laundering, preying upon those people who are vulnerable, or terrorism can exploit anonymity and privacy in the way the carry out their deals (Spafford, Heaphy, & Ferbrache, 1989).
One of the most contentious areas of computer ethics is the intellectual property rights concerning the ownership of computer software. Other people, like Stallman Richard who started Foundation about free software, believe that the ownership of computer software should not be there at all. He asserts that all data should be available free, and all computer programs or software should be accessible for studying, modifying, and copying, by anyone who is interested in the software. Others bring the argument that computer software corporations or programmers would not be able to invest in months or even weeks of work and considerable resources in the development of computer software if they could not have a return on their investment in the form of sales or license fees. Today, the software industry is a huge industry running into many billions of dollars. Some parts of the economy and computer software organizations claim to lose billions of dollars each year because of illegal copying. Many people have the idea that computer software should have ownership, but copying of a personally owned computer programs for one’s relatives or friends should also be possible. The computer software industry asserts that millions or even billions of dollars in sales are lost every year because of such casual copying. Ownership, however, is not a simple matter; because there are numerous different features of computer software, that can one can own, and there are three different kinds of ownership namely trade secrets, copyrights, and patents. Therefore, an individual can own the following features of a computer program, a source code that a programmer has written by means of a high level language such as java, the object code which a translation of the source code by machine language, and feel and look of a computer program which is how the computer program appears (Moor, 2005).
A very contentious issue in the computer industry today is the ownership of a patent on an algorithm of a computer. A patent offers a monopoly that is exclusive on the utilization of the patented item, therefore the owner of a computer algorithm can disallow others the utilization of the mathematical formulas, which are a fraction of the computer algorithm. Scientists and Mathematicians are irritated, claiming that computer algorithm patents efficiently removes fractions of mathematics from the public realm, and hence it threatens to cripple science as a whole. Into the bargain, running a preface patent search to ensure that one’s new computer program does not violate another person’s software is a very expensive and time-consuming task. As a result, only those corporations with big budgets and capital at there disposal can afford to run such patent search. This eliminates many small computer software corporations, stifling competition, and reducing the diversity of computer programs available to the public (Nissenbaum, 1997).
Computer ethics nowadays is rapidly evolving into a wide and even a significant field, which people might call it the global information ethics. Global networks such as the world-wide-web and the internet are connecting many people all over the world, as Krystyna Gorniak-Kocikowska perceives. For the first time in the world’s history, efforts to build up mutually agreed standards of demeanor, and the efforts to defend and advance values of humanity are possible and the community will realize this in a global context. Therefore, since the history of the globe, ethics and human values will be have its debate and transformation in a global context. In other words, it is not limited to a specific geographic location, or guarded by a particular religion or culture. This should undoubtedly be one of the most significant social developments happening in history of the earth. Some of these issues are global laws, for example, if a computer user in the U. S. wishes to protect the freedom of speech on the internet or the web there would be no law that will govern that. This is because almost all the countries in the world have internet connections. If a citizen in a European country is doing business with another person and the business is illegal, then it is not possible for the other country to try the European citizen. Other matters include global cyber business, global education, etc. (Gorniak-Kocikowska, 2007).
Computer industry professionals have specialized skills and often hold substantial positions with respect and authority in the society. For this reason, the professionals are able to offer a major impact upon the earth, including several things that populace value. With such power to change the way the society lives and works on the hands of computer professionals, there must be to a way set to exercise that power in a responsible manner. The computer industry’s employees can come into conflict with each other; therefore, they should be aware of conflicts and make sure they avoid them. Professional organizations such as the Association for Computing Machinery have created codes of ethics, guidelines and requirements to help the computer professionals manage and understand ethical responsibilities. The Accreditation Board for Engineering Technologies has long needed an ethics component in the curriculum of computer engineering. Therefore, to provide these codes of ethics to the computer professionals should be a very important thing to do (Gorniak-Kocikowska, 2007)
In conclusion, computer ethics are moral principles that control the use of computers and the web. These issues are important to the world today since in the near future almost everyone will have access to the internet and the web. Therefore, without holding the computer ethics and the world would be at risk. Computer crimes, such as planting of logic bombs, embezzlement of funds, and other concerns such as data matching, data-mining, click trails recording of on the web will be a thing of the past if computer professionals will uphold the codes of ethics. If people are going to use the internet and the World Wide Web in a responsible way, then the world will be a small community since people can interact quickly and effectively.