Information Systems Ethics
The term ethics is defined as “a set of moral principles” or “the principles of conduct governing an individual or a group.” Since the dawn of civilization, the study of ethics and their impact has fascinated mankind. But what do ethics have to do with information systems?
The introduction of new technology can have a profound effect on human behavior. New technologies give us capabilities that we did not have before, which in turn create environments and situations that have not been specifically addressed in ethical terms. Those who master new technologies gain new power; those who cannot or do not master them may lose power. In 1913, Henry Ford implemented the first moving assembly line to create his Model T cars. While this was a great step forward technologically (and economically), the assembly line reduced the value of human beings in the production process. The development of the atomic bomb concentrated unimaginable power in the hands of one government, who then had to wrestle with the decision to use it. Today’s digital technologies have created new categories of ethical dilemmas.
For example, the ability to anonymously make perfect copies of digital music has tempted many music fans to download copyrighted music for their own use without making payment to the music’s owner. Many of those who would never have walked into a music store and stolen a CD find themselves with dozens of illegally downloaded albums.
Digital technologies have given us the ability to aggregate information from multiple sources to create profiles of people. What would have taken weeks of work in the past can now be done in seconds, allowing private organizations and governments to know more about individuals than at any time in history. This information has value, but also chips away at the privacy of consumers and citizens.