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What Is Cyberethics?

Cyberethics is the study of moral, legal, and

social issues involving cybertechnology. It examines the impact that cybertechnology has for our social, legal, and moral systems. It also evaluates the social policies and laws that we frame in response to issues generated by the development and use of cybertechnology.

What Is Cybertechnology?

Cybertechnology refers to a wide range of
computing and communications devices
– from standalone computers, to "connected" or networked computing and communications technologies, to the Internet itself.


Cybertechnologies include:
hand-held devices (such as personal digital assistants); personal computers (desktops and laptops); large mainframe computers.

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Cybertechnology (Continued)


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Networked devices can be connected directly to the Internet. They also can be connected to other devices through one or more privately owned computer networks. Privately owned networks include both:
Local Area Networks (LANs), Wide Area Networks (WANs).

Why the term cyberethics?

Cyberethics is a more accurate label than computer ethics, which can suggest the study
of ethical issues limited either to:
computing machines, computing professionals.

Cyberethics is also more accurate than Internet ethics, which is limited only to ethical
issues affecting computer networks.

The first phase of computing technology (1950s and 1960s) consisted mainly of huge mainframe computers that were unconnected (i.The Evolution of Cybertechnology and Cyberethics: Four Phases     Computer technology emerged in the late 1940s.. . when some analysts confidently predicted that no more than six computers would ever need to be built. Another question raised during this phase concerned privacy threats and the fear of Big Brother.e. One ethical/social question that arose during Phase 1 dealt with the impact of computing machines as “giant brains” and what that meant for being human. stand-alone machines).

Mainframe computers and personal computers could be linked together via privately owned networks such as LANs and WANs. Privacy concerns arose because confidential information could easily be exchanged between networked databases.The Evolution of Cybertechnology and Cyberethics (Continued)      In Phase 2 (1970s and 1980s). Intellectual property issues emerged because personal computers could easily duplicate proprietary software programs. computing machines and communications devices began to converge. Computer crime was possible because people could break into the computers of large organizations. .

anonymity. This has been facilitated by the phenomenal growth of the World Wide Web. jurisdiction. The proliferation of Internet. . the availability of Internet access to the general public has increased significantly.and Web-based technologies in this phase has raised ethical and social concerns affecting: free speech.The Evolution of Cybertechnology and Cyberethics (Continued)       During Phase 3 (1990-present).

James Moor (2005) notes that computing devices will soon be a part of our clothing. Objects in these environments already exhibit what Philip Brey (2005) calls “ambient intelligence. computers will likely become more and more a part of who or what we are as human beings. and even our bodies. .” which enables “smart objects” to be connected to one another via wireless technology.The Evolution of Cybertechnology and Cyberethics (Continued)     As cybertechnology evolves in Phase 4. Computers are already becoming ubiquitous. and are beginning to “pervade” both our work and recreational environments.

etc. .Table 1-1: Summary of Four Phases of Cyberethics Phase 1 2 Time Period 1950s-1960s 1970s-1980s Technological Features Stand-alone machines (large mainframe computers) Minicomputers and PCs interconnected via privately owned networks Associated Issues Artificial intelligence (AI). bionic chip implants. Issues from Phases 1-3 plus concerns about artificial electronic agents ("bots") with decision-making capabilities. anonymity. etc. legal jurisdiction. 3 1990s-Present Internet and World Wide Web 4 Present to Near Future Convergence of information and communication technologies with nanotechnology research and bioinformatics research. computer crime. etc. virtual communities. privacy and the exchange of records. Issues from Phases 1 and 2 plus concerns about free speech. database privacy ("Big Brother") Issues from Phase 1 plus concerns involving intellectual property and software piracy. nanocomputing research.

and intellectual property rights. The Verizon case raises concerns about privacy. anonymity. surveillance. RIAA and the Amy Boyer Cyberstalking cases in light of the ethical issues they raise.Are Cyberethics Issues Unique?    Consider the Verizon v. Are any of these issues new or unique ethical issues? .

consider the Amy Boyer case.Are Cyberethics Issues Unique (Continued)?     Next. But do any new or any unique ethical issues arise in this case? . Is there anything new or unique about this case from an ethical point of view? Boyer was stalked in ways that were not possible before cybertechnology.

Uniqueness Issue (Continued)  There are two points of view on whether cybertechnology has generated any new or unique ethical issues: (1) Traditionalists argue that nothing is new – crime is crime. and murder is murder.   . (2) Uniqueness Proponents argue that cybertechnology has introduced (at least some) new and unique ethical issues that could not have existed before computers.

For example.   . Traditionalists underestimate the role that issues of scale and scope that apply because of the impact of computer technology. Cyberstalkers can also operate without ever having to leave the comfort of their homes. cyberstalkers can stalk multiple victims simultaneously (scale) and globally (because of the scope or reach of the Internet).Uniqueness Issue (Continued)   Both sides seem correct on some claims. and both seem to be wrong on others.

Uniqueness Issue (Continued)    Uniqueness proponents tend to overstate the effect that cybertechnology has on ethics per se. There may indeed be some unique aspects of computer technology. etc. . Walter Maner (2004) argues that computers are uniquely fast. uniquely malleable.

. Cybertechnology generates some ethical issues. Their argument is based on a logical fallacy: Cybertechnology has some unique technological features. Therefore.Uniqueness Issue (Continued)   But uniqueness proponents tend to confuse unique features of technology with unique ethical issues. some of the ethical issues generated by cybertechnology must be unique.

Uniqueness Issue (Continued)  Traditionalists and uniqueness proponents are each partly correct. Uniqueness proponents are correct in that cybertechnology has complicated our analysis of traditional ethical issues. Traditionalists correctly point out that no new ethical issues have been introduced by computers.   .

  Consider two scenarios from the text: (1) computer professionals designing and coding a controversial computer system. (2) software piracy.  .Uniqueness Issue (Continued)    So we must distinguish between any: (a) unique technological features. (b) (alleged) unique ethical issues.

introduces policy vacuums. Policy vacuums often arise because of conceptual muddles. . Logical malleability. in turn.Alternative Strategy for Analyzing the Uniqueness Issue    James Moor (2000) argues that computer technology generates “new possibilities for human action” because computers are logically malleable.

Before the policy vacuum could be filled.Case Illustration of a Policy Vacuum: Duplicating Software    In the early 1980s. which was made easy because of personal computers. A policy vacuum arose. we had to clear up a conceptual muddle: What exactly is software? . there were no clear laws regarding the duplication of software programs.

.   examines "practical" ethical issues. Ethicists working in fields of applied ethics are more interested in applying ethical theories to the analysis of specific moral problems than in debating the ethical theories themselves.Cyberethics as a Branch of Applied Ethics  Applied ethics. It analyzes moral issues from the vantagepoint of one or more ethical theories. unlike theoretical ethics.

Descriptive Ethics.Cyberethics as a Branch of Applied Ethics (continued)  Three distinct perspectives of applied ethics (as applied to cyberethics): Professional Ethics.    . Philosophical Ethics.

and maintaining computer hardware and software systems.Perspective # 1: Professional Ethics   According to this view. Suppose a programmer discovers that a software product she has been working on is about to be released for sale to the public. cyberethics is the field that identifies and analyzes issues of ethical responsibility for computer professionals. even though it is unreliable because it contains “buggy” software. Should she “blow the whistle”?   . developing. Consider a computer professional's role in designing.

we don’t have automobile ethics.Professional Ethics    Don Gotterbarn (1995) has suggested that computer ethics issues are professional ethics issues. for Gotterbarn. etc. is similar to medical ethics and legal ethics.  For example. Computer ethics. He notes that computer ethics issues aren’t about technology per se. which are tied to issues involving specific professions. airplane ethics. .

Criticism of Professional Ethics Perspective    Is Gotterbarn’s model for computer ethics too narrow for cyberethics? Cyberethics issues affect not only computer professionals. . they effect everyone. Before the widespread use of the Internet. Gotterbarn’s professionalethics model may have been adequate.

] . cyberethics is a field of philosophical analysis and inquiry that goes beyond professional ethics..the 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..Perspective # 2: Philosophical Ethics  From this perspective.  Moor (2000) defines computer ethics as: . [Italics Added.

But they did not have the same impact on our legal and moral systems as cybertechnology.Philosophical Ethics Perspective (continued)    Moor argues that automobile and airplane technologies did not affect our social policies and norms in the same kinds of fundamental ways that computer technology has. . Automobile and airplane technologies have revolutionized transportation. resulting in our ability to travel faster and farther than was possible in previous eras.

2) Describe and analyze the problem by clarifying concepts and examining the factual data associated with that problem. 3)Apply moral theories and principles to reach a position about the particular moral issue.    .Philosophical Ethics: Standard Model of Applied Ethics  Philip Brey (2004) describes the “standard methodology” used by philosophers in applied ethics research as having three stages: 1) Identify a particular controversial practice as a moral problem.

Descriptive investigations report about “What is the case.   .“ Normative inquiries evaluate situations from the vantage-point of the question: “What ought to be the case?”.Perspective #3: Cyberethics as a Field of Descriptive Ethics   The professional and philosophical perspectives both illustrate normative inquiries into applied ethics issues. Normative inquiries or studies are contrasted with descriptive studies.

our investigation is essentially descriptive in nature.000 workers in a community.Descriptive Ethics Perspective (continued)  Scenario: A community’s workforce and the introduction of a new technology.    We are simply describing an impact that technology X has for Community Y. . Suppose a new technology displaces 8. If we analyze the issues solely in terms of the number of jobs that were gained or lost in that community.

Descriptive Ethics Perspective (continued)    Descriptive vs. (1) is descriptive.” (2) "Bill Gates should expand Microsoft’s product offerings. Normative Claims Consider three assertions: (1) "Bill Gates served as the Chief Executive Officer of Microsoft Corporation for many years. while (3) is both normative and moral. (2) is normative but nonmoral.“ (3) “Bill Gates should not engage in business practices that are unfair to competitors.”    Claims (2) And (3) are normative. .

Figure 1-1: Descriptive vs. Prescribe or evaluate in matters having to do with fairness and Obligation (e.. .g. criteria for just and unjust actions and policies).. Normative Claims Descriptive (Report or describe what is the case) Normative (Prescribe what ought to be the case) Non-moral Moral Prescribe or evaluate in matters involving standards such as art and sports (e. criteria for a good painting or an outstanding athlete).g.

the normative ethical issues become clearer. .Some Benefits of Using the Descriptive Approach   Huff & Finholt (1994) claim that when we understand the descriptive aspect of social effects of technology. The descriptive perspective prepare us for our subsequent analysis of ethical issues that affect our system of policies and laws.

Table 1-2: Summary of Cyberethics Perspectives Type of Perspective Associated Disciplines Computer Science Engineering Library/Information Science Philosophy Law Sociology Behavioral Sciences Issues Examined Professional Professional Responsibility System Reliability/Safety Codes of Conduct Privacy & Anonymity Intellectual Property Free Speech Impact of cybertechnology on governmental/financial/ educational institutions and socio-demographic groups Philosophical Descriptive .

Consider the cliché: “Guns don’t kill people.” Corlann Gee Bush (2006) argues that gun technology. at least initially. She points out that certain features inherent in gun technology itself cause guns to be biased in a direction towards violence. is biased in certain directions. like all technologies. .Is Cyber-technology Neutral?     Technology seems neutral. people kill people.

. are similarly valenced in that they tend to "favor" certain directions rather than others. Thus technology is biased and is not neutral. An atom that either loses or gains electrons through the ionization process becomes charged or valenced in a certain direction.Is Technology Neutral (continued)?     Bush uses an analogy from physics to illustrate the bias inherent in technology. Bush notes that all technologies. including guns.

We might fail to notice certain features embedded in the design of cybertechnology. we might also fail to recognize that certain practices involving cybertechnology can have moral implications. Using the standard model. . the standard applied-ethics methodology is not adequate for identifying cyberethics issues.A "Disclosive" Method for Cyberethics    Brey (2004) believes that because of embedded biases in cybertechnology.

Disclosive Method (Continued)    Brey notes that one weakness of the “standard method of applied ethics” is that it tends to focus on known moral controversies So that model fails to identify practices involving cybertechnology which have moral implications but that are not yet known. which he contrasts with "morally transparent” features. . Brey refers to these practices as having morally opaque (or morally non-transparent) features.

Unknown Features Users are not even aware of the technological features that have moral implications Examples might include data-mining technology and Internet cookies.Figure 1-2: Embedded Technological Features Having Moral Implications Transparent Features Morally Opaque Features Known Features Users are aware of these features but do not realize they have moral implications. . Examples can include:Web Forms and searchengine tools.

philosophers.A Multi-Disciplinary and Multi-Level Method for Cyberethics  Brey’s disclosive method is multidisciplinary because it requires the collaboration of: computer scientists.    . social scientists.

application level.A Multi-Disciplinary & Multi-Level Method for Cyberethics (Continued)  Brey’s scheme is also multi-level because the method for conducting computer ethics research requires three levels of analysis..e.    . theoretical level. i. a: disclosure level.

Table 1-3: Three Levels in Brey’s Model of Computer Ethics Level Disciplines Involved Computer Science Social Science (optional) Philosophy Task/Function Disclose embedded features in computer technology that have moral import Test newly disclosed features against standard ethical theories Apply standard or newly revised/ formulated ethical theories to the issues Disclosive Theoretical Application Computer Science Philosophy Social Science .

Clear up any conceptual muddles involving the policy vacuum and go to Step 3 . Identify a practice involving cyber-technology. and then go to step 3b. Justify the position you reached by evaluating it against the rules for logic/critical thinking (see Chapter 3). . Step 2. otherwise go to Step 3. or a feature in that technology. If the ethical issue is descriptive. The deliberation process requires two stages: 3a. 2a. 3b. 1c. that is. If the normative ethical issues remain. go to Step 2b. that is controversial from a moral perspective. assess the sociological implications for relevant social institutions and socio-demographic and populations. 1a. Analyze the ethical issue by clarifying concepts and situating it in a context. Deliberate on the ethical issue. go to Step 2. Disclose any hidden (or opaque) features or issues that have moral implications 1b. Apply one or more ethical theories (see Chapter 2) to the analysis of the moral issue. 1d. determine whether there are any specific guidelines. 2b.A Three-step Strategy for Approaching Cyberethics Issues Step 1. professional codes that can help you resolve the issue (see Appendixes A-E). If the ethical issue is also normative. Step 3. If a policy vacuums exists.