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Ethical and Social Issues in Information Systems

Ethics is defined as the principles of right and wrong that individuals, acting as free moral agents, use to make choices to guide their behaviours. Ethical issues have become more prominent because of the evolution of information systems. Ethical, social, and political issues are closely connected in an information society. When one area is disturbed it causes an effect on the other two areas. These issues raised by information systems canter around five moral dimensions: information rights and obligations, property rights and obligations, accountability and control, system quality, and quality of life.

Responsibility, accountability, and liability are the basic concepts that form the foundation of an ethical analysis of information systems. In order to analyze a potential ethical situation, the following five-step process is helpful. First the facts must be clearly identified and described. Next the issue should be defined and the higher-order values involved identified. Third the stakeholders must be

identified. Then the options that can be reasonable taken are identified. Last identify potential consequences of ones options.

Once the analysis of the possible ethical situation is complete, several specific principles for conduct can be used to guide in the ethical decision. These include the Golden Rule, Immanuel Kants Categorical Imperative, Descartes rule of change, the Utilitarian Principle, the Risk Aversion Principle, and the ethical no free lunch rule.

Several privacy laws have been developed over the years to protect individuals and firms who use information systems. The Privacy Act of 1974 has been the most important because it regulates the federal governments collection, use, and disclosure of information. Other federal privacy laws have been put in place to handle areas such as credit reporting, education, financial records, newspaper records, and


electronic communications. Most U.S. federal laws apply only to the federal government. Fair Information Practices (FIP) was set forth to govern the collection and use of information about individuals and forms the basis of most U.S. and European privacy laws.

The use of the Internet has opened up a challenge to protect an individuals privacy. As computer users access information, it is sent over many networks before reaching its final destination. Each network it passes through is capable of monitoring, capturing, and storing communications that pass through it. Due to the weak or lack of privacy protection policies, individuals are not always informed on their use of the users personal information. Cookies, web beacons, and spyware are types of information that can be secretly put onto ones computer to track their browsing activity.

New technologies are now available to protect user privacy during Web use. They are used for encrypting e-mail and making surfing activities appear anonymous, for preventing computers from accepting cookies, and for detecting and eliminating spyware. One such tool is the Platform for Privacy Preferences which is used to enable automatic communication of privacy policies between a Web site and its visitors.

Another challenge faced by Internet users is the existing laws and social practices that protect private intellectual property. This is due to the ease of copying or distributing computerized information on networks. Trade secret laws protect the actual ideas in a work product. Copyright protects the creators of intellectual property from having their work copied by others for any purpose for a minimum of 70 years. Patents grant the owner an exclusive monopoly on the ideas behind an invention for 20 years. The rise of the use of the Internet and other electronic networks has made it more difficult to protect intellectual property.



Information technologies are also challenging existing liability laws and social practices for holding individuals and institutions accountable. In addition, computer errors can cause serious harm to individuals and organizations. Poor data quality is also to blame for disruptions and losses for businesses.

Although information technologies hold many benefits to the quality of life of individuals, they also hold many challenges. Negative social consequences can be extremely harmful to individuals, societies, and political institutions. Some of the negative consequences include the balancing power between centralizing and decentralizing computing and decision making; reduced response time to competition due to the more efficient global marketplace; maintaining boundaries between family, work, and leisure; dependability on information systems and vulnerability if they fail; increase in computer crime and abuse; loss of jobs; the increase of racial and social class split; and the increase of health risks, such as repetitive stress injury, computer vision syndrome, and techno stress.

Different Ways to Overcome From Ethical and Social Issues

in Information Systems

Technical solutions
The Platform for Privacy Preferences (P3P) Allows Web sites to communicate privacy policies to visitors Web browser user User specifies privacy levels desired in browser settings E.g. medium level accepts cookies from first party host sites that have opt-in or opt-out policies but rejects third-party cookies that use personally identifiable information without an opt-in policy.



Property rights: Intellectual property Intellectual property: Intangible property of any kind created by individuals or corporations Three main ways those protect intellectual property 1. Trade secret: Intellectual work or product belonging to business, not in the public domain 2. Copyright: Statutory grant protecting intellectual property from being copied for the life of the author, plus 70 years 3. Patents: Grants creator of invention an exclusive monopoly on ideas behind invention for 20 years

Challenges to intellectual property rights Digital media different from physical media (e.g. books) Ease of replication Ease of transmission (networks, Internet) Difficulty in classifying software Compactness Difficulties in establishing uniqueness Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) Makes it illegal to circumvent technology-based protections of copyrighted materials

Accountability, Liability, Control Computer-related liability problems If software fails, who is responsible? If seen as part of machine that injures or harms, software producer and operator may be liable If seen as similar to book, difficult to hold author/publisher responsible What should liability be if software seen as service? Would this be similar to telephone systems not being liable for transmitted messages?



System Quality: Data Quality and System Errors what is an acceptable, technologically feasible level of system quality? Flawless software is economically unfeasible Three principal sources of poor system performance: Software bugs, errors Hardware or facility failures Poor input data quality (most common source of business system failure)

Quality of life: Equity, access, and boundaries Negative social consequences of systems Balancing power: Although computing power decentralizing, key decisionmaking remains centralized Rapidity of change: Businesses may not have enough time to respond to global competition Maintaining boundaries: Computing, Internet use lengthens work-day, infringes on family, personal time Dependence and vulnerability: Public and private organizations ever more dependent on computer systems 30 P Computer crime and abuse Computer crime: Commission of illegal acts through use of compute or against a computer system computer may be object or instrument of crime Computer abuse: Unethical acts, not illegal Spam: High costs for businesses in dealing with spam

Employment: Reengineering work resulting in lost jobs Equity and access the digital divide: Certain ethnic and income groups in the United States less likely to have computers or Internet access