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Professional Ethics in Information Systems: A Personal Perspective



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Volume 3, Article 8
April 2000
Robert M. Davison
Dept of Information Systems
City University of Hong Kong
Communications of AIS Volume 3, Article 8 2
Professional Ethics in Information Systems: A Personal Perspective by
R. M. Davison
Robert M. Davison
Dept of Information Systems
City University of Hong Kong
In the Information Systems discipline, increasing attention is being paid to
the issue of professional ethics. In this article, a personal perspective on the topic
is offered. The academic philosophies of ethical theory are introduced, followed
by detailed treatment of four fundamental issues: codes of ethics, intellectual
property rights, professional accountability and data protection. The intention of
the article is to arouse the interest of IS professionals and to stimulate debate.
Through a discussion, future developments in the professionalism of information
systems are explored, and questions are raised concerning the way in which
information systems is regulated, and the role it may play in the future.
Keywords: Professional ethics, codes of ethics, data privacy, intellectual
property rights, professional accountability.
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The purpose of this article is to encourage the Information Systems (IS)
community to consider and debate professional ethics. While the article has been
informed by and developed from the Professional Ethics pages of ISWORLD - it is
also a personal perspective. Various other equally legitimate perspectives – such
as those of government, business, industry, and independent regulators, are not
presented to a significant extent.
Ethics as a discipline of study and practice is by no means new, with
historical antecedents dating to the philosophy of Confucius and Aristotle, and its
application to computers to the work of mathematician/philosopher, Norbert
Wiener [Wiener, 1950]. However, this article focuses primarily on the ethical
issues of relevance to IS professionals - in academia, industry and the public
sector. In this context, the term “professionals” is defined very broadly, and
includes not only academics, practitioners, researchers, executives and
consultants, but also students, since many graduating students will become
professionals in due course. Geographically and culturally, the article is not
limited to any particular norms, and does attempt to compare "Western" notions
of ethics with norms that are prevalent in “non-Western” cultures.
Ethics has been defined as involving the systematic application of moral
rules, standards, or principles to concrete problems [Lewis, 1985; Martinsons &
So, 2000], though the utilitarian nature of this definition is criticised by some [e.g.
Snell, 1996] who would also pay attention to the characters (and obligations) of
the key actors. In general, it is agreed that an "ethical dilemma emerges
whenever a decision or an action has the potential to impair or enhance the well-
being of an individual or a group of people" [Martinsons and So, 2000]. Naturally,
such decisions or actions are undertaken frequently, with competing values or
conflicts of interest all too common in the information society. Various
philosophical perspectives can be applied to the tackling of ethical dilemmas,
including utilitarianism, deontology and social propriety.
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Numerous books have been published in recent years on the general topic
of “Ethics and Information Technology”, e.g. Baase [1997], Johnson and
Nissenbaum [1995], Spinello [1995]. Such books offer broad introductions to the
field, typically including: a background to the academic philosophies of ethics and
a framework to help analyse ethical dilemmas, together with chapters on specific
ethical issues. Many books also include teaching cases for student analysis.
Some books restrict themselves to more specific topics, e.g., Langford’s [2000]
“Internet Ethics” and Floridi’s [1999] “Philosophy and Computing”. All of these
books investigate ethics in far more detail than this article and are strongly
In addition to relevant books, an extensive literature in professional ethics
exists in academic and professional journals, some focusing exclusively on IT
ethics (e.g. Ethics and Information Technology), others examining ethics within
business (e.g. Journal of Business Ethics), or behavioural (e.g. “Ethics and
Behavior”) contexts. Some journals (e.g. Communications of the ACM) occasionally
devote special issues to ethical topics (e.g. the February 1999 issue on Internet
Privacy), while others publish occasional articles with an ethical flavour. Journal
articles that introduce some fundamental issues include: Cappel and Kappelman
[1998]; Kock [1999]; Laudon, [1996]; Mason, [1986]; Myers and Miller [1996];
Weisband and Reinig [1995]. A parallel literature examines the development of
ethical values by individuals. Key contributors to this literature include Kohlberg
[1976, 1981], and more recently Snell [1995, 1996, 1999].
The key ethical issues that emerge from these various sources include: (1)
codes of ethics; (2) intellectual property rights (IPR); (3) data (and personal)
privacy, particularly with respect to the Internet and applications such as email;
and (4) professional accountability. Other issues include electronic monitoring of
employees [Sipior and Ward, 1995; Weisband and Reinig, 1995]; computer
security (including hacking and unauthorised access) [Hoffer and Straub, 1989;
Straub and Nance, 1988; Straub and Welke, 1998] and IT law (particularly
software contracts, agreements and liabilities, and actions that involve the
fraudulent use of computers)[Lee, 1995].
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In this article, we introduce and discuss some of the fundamental issues in
the professional ethics of information systems, namely, codes of ethics, IPR,
accountability and data protection. Whilst the legal and security issues are
interesting, they are also complex and hence are generally beyond the scope of
the article.
A variety of formal and informal principles and guidelines have been
suggested as means to assist in the resolution of ethical dilemmas. These
include Deontology, Teleology, Altruism, Egoism and the Christian ‘Golden
Teleology, etymologically derived from the Greek 'telos' meaning 'end' or
'goal' involves valuing goals or ends that are 'good'. A correct decision would
maximise the good for most people. Utilitarianism, developed by Bentham (1748-
1832) and Mill (1806-1873) is one example of a teleological theory, involving an
analysis of the ‘goodness’ of consequences. One must note, however, that
goodness should not apply only to the individual making the decision, but also to
all parties that are affected by the decision. As Velasquez [1992] notes, however,
the principle of utilitarianism "assumes that all benefits and costs of an action can
be measured on a common numerical scale and then added or subtracted from
each other". This calculation of costs and benefits is inherent in utilitarianism, and
some form of cost-benefit analysis will apply to most teleological theories.
Naturally, it is impossible to be certain of all the possible consequences of an
action. Therefore, one can never be certain that the right action is being taken.
However, this uncertainty can be moderated by making a decision based upon
“the best possible knowledge of the consequences available at the time”
[Walsham, 1996, p.71]. A second concern with teleology is that on occasion the
methods used may be inherently evil, though the end result may be deemed
beneficial for the majority: witness the killing of civilian demonstrators to protect
the stability/sovereignty of a nation state. Since the goal itself may be
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subjectively perceived, the methods to achieve the goal may necessarily be
equally subjective.
Contrasting with teleology, deontology (Greek 'deon' meaning 'obligation'
or ‘duty’) focuses on the duties that individuals (or entities such as organisations
or society) have in particular situations. The correct decision to make does not
depend on an outcome, but on a set of fundamental duties (e.g. the Bible’s Ten
Commandments). Walsham [1996, p.70] observes that deontological theories
“are based on the view that there are certain sorts of acts that are wrong in
themselves, and thus they are morally unacceptable, even if the ends which are
being pursued are morally admirable”. Kant (1724-1804) focuses on the duty of
the individual, irrespective of any notion of happiness or satisfaction. Indeed,
according to Kant, one must act according to one's duty - irrespective of what the
consequences might be. Kant's concept of duty is often referred to as the
categorical imperative - an ultimate test of whether something is right or wrong.
Universalism is implicit in this principle - only if an action can be performed by
everyone can it be morally acceptable. If everyone pirated software, then no one
would buy it, no one would spend resources developing it, and it would not even
exist; therefore, no one should pirate software. The categorical imperative "can
be reduced to the absolute principle of respect for other human beings, who
deserve respect because of their rationality and freedom, the hallmark of
personhood for Kant" [Spinello, 1995, p.25].
The categorical imperative is a good principle, but it is too perfect! There
are often situations where there may be conflicting duties and the consideration
of consequences is necessary in order to reach an optimal (or ‘least worst’)
decision, for example sending spam email to identify a possible bone marrow
donor for a life-saving operation. Indeed, some moral philosophers do
recommend that a combined teleological-deontological code of ethics be adopted
[Hunt and Vitell, 1986].
Duties are often associated with corresponding rights - and humans are
sometimes more interested in their rights than their duties. These rights,
however, “are not universally accepted, and can be held to be strongly
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conditioned by particular cultures” [Walsham, 1996, p.71]. This conditioning has
become apparent in recent years with conflicts about the universality of so-called
“Western” values (rights) and their applicability in some developing nations,
notably those in South East Asia.
The universality of an action is often analysed by what we know as the
Golden Rule - broadly: 'Treat other people in the same way that you would like
them to treat you'. It can be helpful to turn the tables, make oneself the victim or
recipient of an action - and then decide if the action is acceptable or not. Other,
less formal, tests that can be used are sometimes called the TV, Market and
Mum tests. Could you publicise your action on TV? Could your behaviour be
used as a marketing tool? What would your Mum say? Such tests start to move
away from the universal principles that we have been discussing towards
relativism - presumably not all mothers will think in the same way or respect the
same goals or duties. Likewise, TV audiences in different cultural contexts may
apply somewhat different ethical principles to evaluate the 'goodness' or
'rightness' of a decision, perhaps because of different social values or standards.
Codes of ethics, which amount to a formalisation of rules and expected
behaviours, are tied up with many of the ethical issues in Section II. We should
make it clear at the outset that Information Systems, unlike Law or Medicine, is
not a controlled profession. In most countries, in order for a lawyer or medical
doctor to practice, membership of a professional association is required - and
adherence to the ethical code of that association is obligatory. Violation of the
code may lead to various penalties - suspension of membership, and hence of
the right to practice, or more serious consequences such as judicial investigation
and imprisonment.
Many information systems professionals belong to professional
associations and are expected to adhere to their codes of ethics, but we are not
aware of any employing organisations that mandate membership of such a
professional association as a condition of employment/practice. Nevertheless,
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codes of ethics are valuable as they both raise awareness of ethical issues and
dilemmas that professionals may potentially face and also serve to enhance the
public profile of the profession. Furthermore, codes of ethics may provide
clarifications about the conduct deemed acceptable in client-professional
However, codes of ethics have their drawbacks. Promoting a particular set
of beliefs brings a natural tendency to universalise what kind of ethical behaviour
is acceptable, despite evidence to the contrary. For example, it is apparent that
social and ethical values vary in different cultural contexts, informed by different
social, educational and political norms. It would surely be arrogant to impose
ethical values, developed in one culture, on another culture, all the while
assuming that what is good for one person (or society) must be good for another.
If true, then the same imposition should work in reverse.
Codes of ethics, under one name or another, abound. In information
systems, relevant codes of ethics have been developed by many professional
associations (Table 1). These codes vary in their complexity and degree of
Table 1. Sample Professional Associations in IS
ACM Association for Computing
Machinery CSSA Computer Society of South
ACS Australian Computer Society HKCS Hong Kong Computer Society
BCS British Computer Society IEEE Institute for Electrical and
Electronic Engineers
CIPS Canadian Information
Processing Society SCS Singapore Computer Society
The ACS, for example, comments:
“…an essential characteristic of a profession is the need for its
members to abide by a Code of Ethics. The Society requires its
members to subscribe to a set of values and ideals which uphold
and advance the honour, dignity and effectiveness of the profession
of information technology” [ACS, 2000].
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The ACS code forms part of a larger set of regulations, and violation of the
code may lead to the expulsion of a member.
One of the most comprehensive professional codes has been developed
by the BCS, having separate codes of conduct and practice, as well as professional
development. The code of conduct is split into four areas covering a member’s
duties with respect to: public interest; employers and clients; the profession; and
professional competence and integrity. The code of practice comprises “a series
of statements which prescribe minimum standards of practice, to be observed by
all members” [BCS, 2000a]. With respect to professional development, the BCS
maintains “to maximise your potential for life time employability, it is essential that
you maintain high levels of professional competence by continually upgrading
your skills and knowledge” [BCS, 2000b]. It is not feasible in this article to explore
this, and other codes of ethics, conduct or practice, in greater detail. However,
readers are directed towards the excellent materials freely available on the web
pages (see the ISWORLD pages on professional ethics for current URLs), as well
as towards Oz’s [1992] article comparing five codes of ethics and Walsham’s
[1996] article that uses ethical theory to critique the ACM code of ethics.
Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) concern the protection of all products
created or designed by the human intellect - books, songs, poems, trademarks,
blueprints … and software. Where professional ethics are concerned, it is
primarily the protection, or violation of that protection, of software programs that
is probably of greatest concern - at least to the software developers. In this
section, we discuss some of the legal background to IPR and the justification for
protecting copyright, drawing upon codes of ethics to supplement the
explanations. We then consider some cultural differences that complicate the
notion of copyright, and finally consider the rights and duties of software
developers and software users. While we seek to investigate IPR in a manner
conducive to the development of professional ethics, we are nonetheless aware
of the danger of upholding a set of values that is distinctly biased towards the
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software industry, and is in consequence perhaps not so professional. We will
return to this debate both in the following section – on professional accountability
– and in the discussion in Section VII.
The copying of software programs, although nominally protected by
copyright laws, is certainly widespread. While some may acknowledge that such
copying is tantamount to theft, the activity persists if only because it is so easy,
the chance of getting caught is considered negligible, and the software
developers are perceived as quite rich enough already. Such copying is not
restricted to personal users – businesses are involved as well, though often
inadvertently. As the Business Software Alliance [BSA, 1999a] reports:
“employees contribute significantly to the presence of illegal
software in the workplace, posing serious financial and legal
consequences for their employers. Among those [companies]
surveyed, software decision-makers indicate that colleagues
bringing software from home (40%), downloading unauthorized
copies from the Internet (24%), and sharing programs with other
employees (24%) are three of the most common violations
occurring at their companies”.
Since 1994, the BSA, in conjunction with the Software Information Industry
Association (SIIA) has conducted annual surveys of software piracy. In 1998 (the
latest year for which figures are available), the survey:
“estimates that, of the 615 million new business software
applications installed worldwide … 231 million - or 38% - were
pirated. This represents an increase of 2.5 million more applications
than were pirated in 1997” [IPR, 1999; BSA, 1999b].
Countries where software piracy is estimated to be most prevalent include
Vietnam (97%) and the PRC (95%). The USA (25%) and UK (29%) are the only
countries with rates below 30%.
One philosophical basis for software protection lies in the prima facie right
to private property, particularly property that can be said to be the ‘fruit of one's
endeavours’ [Locke, 1964]. Naturally, such a right is characteristic of those
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capitalist societies that legislate the protection of individual rights, though
copyright laws protect the expression of ideas (a software program, for instance),
but not the idea itself. In Chinese society however, for instance, the “socialization
process emphasises obligations and duties that promote conformity, collective
solidarity, and obedience while downplaying assertiveness and creativity”
[Martinsons and So, 2000]. Bond and Hwang [1986] note succinctly the similarity
between a “preoccupation with social order” in Chinese society and a
“preoccupation with individual freedom” in Western societies. These fundamental
cultural and social differences certainly raise difficulties in legislative attempts to
provide for universal protection of creativity.
A danger inherent in copyright protection is that when a technology is
wholly owned by a single entity (individual, organisation), consumers may be
harmed because the opportunity for competition is much diminished. Monopolies
can lead to reduced evolution and diffusion of products, as well as overpricing
and underproduction. Given these opposing forces, there clearly needs to be a
reasonable balance between protection of a product on the one hand, and the
right of consumers to avail themselves of the product at reasonable cost on the
other. Indeed, in Korea and Japan there is a public assumption that new ideas
and technologies should be shared in the public domain so that members of a
society can benefit [Spinello, 1995, pp.161-162]. In those countries with a
Confucian heritage, notably the People’s Republic of China, Wingrove [1995]
remarks: “the copying of works of almost any kind has for centuries been
regarded as honourable and necessary”. Swinyard [1990], confirms this view,
observing that "in many Asian nations the highest compliment one can be paid is
to be copied”. In many developing countries, meanwhile, governments are, quite
naturally, more concerned that new technology should spread through all of a
society as rapidly as possible, enabling the country to leapfrog older generations
of technology and catch up with the rest of the world2. The notion that technology
should in some way be strongly protected, with profits going overseas, is not one
that they feel is good for the development of the local economy. In such contexts,
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"individual claims on intellectual property are subordinated to more fundamental
claims of social well-being" [Steidlmeier, 1993].
Much of the argument about IPR lies in the deontological dichotomy
between rights and duties. Software producers claim that they have the right to
protect the fruit of their endeavours - the software programs. Furthermore, they
have the right to be compensated for the resources that they have expended in
the development of that product. This right is translated into a right to charge
consumers what they deem a fair price for the software products - a price that
covers the various developmental costs, as well as generating profits that can be
used for future product research and development. To protect their right to the
fruit of their endeavours, they claim that consumers have a duty both to pay the
price and to respect the intellectual property contained within the product - by not
stealing it.
Notwithstanding these rights and duties, consumers may claim that they
have the right to use a product for which they have paid, and indeed have the
right to expect that that product will be free of defects (bugs). This imposes a
duty of quality (and professionalism) on the developers of the software to ensure
that the software is indeed bug-free. Consumers expect that a product be
competitively priced, providing value for money.
Professional accountability is an issue that is closely tied to many codes of
ethical conduct. For example, in the BCS code of conduct, clause 21 reads:
“Members shall accept professional responsibility for their work and for the work
of their subordinates and associates under their direction, and shall not terminate
any assignment except for good reason and on reasonable notice” [BCS, 2000c],
and in the BCS code of practice, clause 2.4 requires members to: “be
accountable for the quality, timeliness and use of resources in the work for which
he/she is responsible” [BCS, 2000a]. In general, accountability lies at the root of
vendor-client relationships, and is therefore relevant to our professional
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behaviour in consulting or professional work, especially with those who make use
of our products or advice.
Accountability is important because it shows that high-quality work is
valued, encourages professionals to be diligent and responsible in their practice,
and establishes just foundations for punishment and/or compensation when
software does not perform according to expectations, or when professional
advice turns out to be unreliable. Accountability is also important because
computer software is used throughout our society, and is an essential component
of many life-critical systems, such as transportation equipment (aircraft, trains,
lifts), medical devices, toys, accounting and financial control systems (ATMs),
weapons systems, communications devices (radar, telephones, televisions,
satellites, networks), and domestic appliances (microwave ovens, TVs,
refrigerators, air-conditioning systems).
Through encouraging a strong sense of professional accountability, we
can attempt to ensure that those who are responsible for the safe functioning of
these systems will do their utmost to ensure that systems are safe, and will
minimise risks. Accountability runs a considerable risk of being eroded, however,
when computers are made scapegoats for human failings or when developers of
computer software deny any responsibility for the consequences of use of the
software, even when this use is in accordance with the purpose for which the
software was designed. Johnson and Mulvey [1995, p.59] use a scenario to
illustrate an accountability dilemma of this type. A computerised investment
system has been designed for and purchased by a pension fund management
company. The user of the system becomes familiar with it, and requests IT staff
(not the original designer) to make some modifications to the system. Shortly
afterwards, substantial losses are incurred and payments to pensioners have to
be cut. Who is accountable? The original system designer? The user who
requested modifications? It is perhaps all too easy to blame the computer,
apologise, and do nothing.
Accountability is generally assumed to include a number of components,
viz.: responsibility (direct or indirect), liability and strict liability. Responsibility can
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be determined if a person either performed (or failed to perform) an action
[causal condition], or intended to perform an action [mental condition]. It may not
be possible to identify a single responsible person - particularly for the causal
condition. Liability relates to who should pay compensation (financial redress,
community service,…) as a result of being held responsible for an action. In
some situations, strict liability may apply, i.e. requiring the payment of
compensation to a victim even though the harm has not arisen through one's
deliberate or direct actions. An example might relate to aircraft systems. If an
aircraft crashes due to a system failure, then the airline is subject to strict liability
even though the airline has not deliberately or directly caused the crash. Strict
liability helps to ensure that extraordinary care is taken over the development and
maintenance of systems that have the potential to cause loss of life.
Although the definition of accountability is fairly straightforward, four
barriers to accountability can be identified: the problem of too many hands; the
computer as scapegoat; the problem of bugs; and ownership without liability.
Computer software is especially vulnerable to the problem of too many hands,
because most (if not all) software is necessarily designed and developed by a
number of individuals, often at different points in time. Furthermore, software
often has a symbiotic relationship with computer hardware. This makes it very
difficult to identify precisely which person should take responsibility for any
unexpected action. However, such complexity can be no defence and there is a
clear need to attempt to identify who should take responsibility for the problem. If
we do not attempt to apportion blame, not only will the responsible person(s)
escape blame, but they may cause further problems to happen in the future. The
net result is that accountability is eroded, with no one prepared to step forwards
and take responsibility.
Information systems are often blamed for human errors because they
intermediate communications between people. If a human action is mediated by
a computer, there is a strong tendency to blame the computer rather than the
human (designer, programmer or user) that caused the computer to produce
incorrect information. It is expected that with the forthcoming ‘webalisation’ of
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domestic devices (kettles, microwave ovens, air conditioning systems, etc.),
computers will be made scapegoats for human failings with increasing frequency.
In this situation, it is vital to establish lines of responsibility because it is all too
easy for humans to shirk their responsibilities.
Bugs include all types of software errors, including those made at the
design, modelling and coding stages of system design. Bugs certainly make
software unreliable and can cause system failure, with the potential for loss of life
or severe damages. There has been an unfortunate tendency for bugs to be
seen as an inevitable aspect of computer systems, even natural hazards that
computer users have come to accept. This view is not restricted to the software
developers, with prominent commentators on IT ethics voicing similar views,
Spinello [1995, p.91] asserting “It is the nature of software programs to have
errors…”. However, the very purpose of professional accountability is that we
should identify who has caused a harm to occur - whether intentionally or through
negligence. If, playing the Devil’s advocate, we accept that bugs are inevitable,
then accountability becomes impossible - we can merely regret that harm was
caused, but defend ourselves by saying that bugs are unavoidable (even
expected) and therefore no one should be held responsible for the harm. There
may even be resistance to liability - if no one can be identified as accountable,
then why should anyone pay compensation - which is precisely why the concept
of strict liability is so important. If, however, we do not view bugs as natural
hazards, but as manifestations of unprofessional and sloppy work, we should be
able to identify lines of responsibility, particularly for persistent bugs.
Furthermore, if we are to act as true professionals, we cannot be satisfied with
the notion that bugs are inevitable - it is like saying that the loss of human life
through human error is inevitable, and that when we turn on a TV set, there is a
reasonable chance it will short circuit and electrocute us. Society has the right to
expect that domestic appliances, and many other essential systems, will function
As we have mentioned previously, the legal aspects of software product
reliability are complex. Nevertheless, in order to understand the relationship
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between bugs and liability, it is instructive to introduce the legal rights and duties
of developers and customers. Strict liability is generally only applied by courts
when a person or property is injured or damaged. Thus, purely economic
damages are usually held to be beyond the application of strict liability. A second
category of liability is known as negligence. Developers can avoid accusations of
negligence by ensuring that they take reasonable care in the design, coding and
testing of their products. One problem here relates to the thoroughness of
testing. If a company has followed industry standards with regard to testing, then
it would appear that if bugs still exist, it cannot be accused of including such bugs
either deliberately or through carelessness [Spinello, 1995]. Whilst this does not
obviate the requirement for software to be bug-free, it certainly does imply that
industry standards may need to be set at very high levels. A third liability
category is known as breach of warranty. A warranty is essentially a promise that
the developer makes to the customer with regard to the functionality of the
software, and forms “part of the contractual agreement between the seller and
the buyer” [Spinello, 1995, p.87].
Having identified these categories of liability, it is important to note that
pre-packaged softwares (Microsoft Word, Netscape Navigator, etc.) are generally
recognised to be products, but custom-developed applications are considered to
be services. This distinction is critical since while the standards of liability are
applicable to products, they are not to services. Individually customised software
must therefore be legally covered by the specific contract that is agreed upon
between the developer and the customer, where penalties for non-functionality,
lateness of delivery, etc. may be specified.
Computer software developers affirm that they sell a user the licence to
install and use (typically) a single copy of a software package; they are not
selling the ownership of the software. However, at the same time, software
developers employ disclaimers to minimise as far as possible any liability (e.g. for
financial or data losses) arising out of the customer's use of the software. Indeed,
we note an unfortunate tendency for software producers to deny to the maximum
extent possible any responsibility for actions caused by their software. At the
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same time, consumers are held to be liable for any use of the software that lies
outside the narrowly-worded terms of the software license agreement. This
situation has the effect of eroding the rights of the user, since virtually all the risks
of using the software (but few of the rights) are transferred to the user. Legally,
these disclaimers have been recognised in courts so long as they are explicit and
prominently displayed. There is evidence to indicate that the tendency to disclaim
liability is growing more serious, Menn [2000] noting that many software
companies intend to implement measures that would have the effect of further
diminishing consumers' rights.
Another consequence of minimising liability is the software developers’
parallel denial of responsibility for any bugs that they may include (intentionally or
inadvertently) in the software. Essentially, when you buy software, you install and
use it "as is", i.e. at your own risk. We argue, however, that such transfer of risk
is unreasonable because it imposes upon the developer no duty to ensure that
software is bug-free, nor even - so long as these bugs do not cause loss of life or
injury - to provide bug-fixes when they are identified. This seems to be both
unethical and unprofessional - consumers have the right to use a product that
fulfils the agreement with the vendor - explicitly or implicitly. At the same time,
developers have a moral duty to ensure that the software they sell is usable and
“fulfills the explicit and implicit contract between the buyer and seller” [Spinello,
1995, p.89]. We maintain that if software developers wish to retain their
ownership rights, then they should be both responsible and liable for their
products, since they are in the best position (owning source code) to have direct
control over the quality of their software.
We suggest that accountability and liability to compensate need to be
separate. An individual programmer or software designer may be responsible for
a harm, but liability more properly lies with the employer, since it retains
responsibility/ownership for the work of its employees. There is a strong need to
clarify and promote standards of care in system design that are acceptable to
users and developers alike - perhaps via a code of practice. Furthermore, the
practice of extensive disclaiming needs to be reviewed. At the very least,
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customers have the right to be informed if there are known bugs, irrespective of
whether the developer intends to fix them, and irrespective of whether the
developer thinks they are significant or not. Not informing the customer amounts
to misrepresentation. Indeed, misrepresentation can be a form of contract
violation and so may potentially attract legal penalties of a different kind. With
respect to bugs, appropriate standards of testing need to be promulgated and
adhered to, while excellent documentation of "who does what" should enable
lines of accountability to be established. Independent software auditors may be
called upon to verify software quality, if possible applying ISO standards.
Accountability is clearly vital not only for the information systems
profession, but also for us as professionals, if we are to be held in the highest
regard by those for whom we develop systems.
Privacy, “the right to be let alone” [Warren and Brandeis, 1890], is one of
the most contentious issues of the information age, one that is fraught with
ethical complications. The capability of information systems to gather, process,
sort, store and distribute all forms of information is unparalleled in human history,
and as a direct consequence, the confidentiality of this information has been
severely eroded. In place of confidentiality has come commercialisation - that is,
all forms of information can be bought and sold - for a price. Given the
commercialisation of information, personal privacy has directly suffered, with little
attention being paid to the rights of individuals, despite laws that aim to protect
personal privacy.
Data about individuals is collected in a wide variety of ways, including
information provided on application forms, credit/debit card transactions, and
web-site transactions (including cookies). This information can then be
recombined and reprocessed, before being sold selectively to whoever is
interested. A good example of such data reprocessing and selective distribution
is the Lotus Marketplace: Households software developed (and quickly
withdrawn) by the US firms Lotus Development Corporation and Equifax for
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distribution in 1991. The product, to be delivered on CD-ROM, drew upon a
database of 80 million US households, including: name, address, gender, marital
status, income level and shopping habits. Businesses would be able to buy a
minimum of 5,000 names worth of data - data relevant to their own line of
business, for example the names and addresses of single males between 30 and
40 years of age living in Southern California and with an annual income
exceeding $200,000 who have bought sports cars in the last 3 years.
This type of database marketing system (DMS) has become the lifeblood
of many small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) that need to locate their
customers with direct mailing (or emailing) campaigns. If such DMSs became
unavailable, one could argue that many jobs in SMEs risk disappearing.
Nevertheless, we must also ensure that the privacy of individuals is protected -
and that individuals consent to the use of their information. It is sensible to
assume that most individuals are concerned about their personal information and
wish to keep it confidential. This is particularly true for the more sensitive forms of
information - financial and medical, for example.
Nevertheless, individuals (data subjects) are routinely asked if they would
permit their information to be used by the information collector (more properly the
data user). Application forms invariably include a clause stating that personal
information provided may be used (unless the individual requests to the contrary)
for marketing or other purposes. This is the principle of informed consent - if the
individual does not so request that his/her data not be used for those other
purposes, it is assumed that permission has been given. The alternative
principle, of affirmative consent, where an individual is required to give
permission for each and every occasion on which a data user wishes to make
use of an individual's data, becomes prohibitively expensive and logistically
complex (in terms of managing the permissions of many individuals), and is
consequently seldom practiced [Spinello, 1995].
Although these principles provide some internal regulation of the
individual's privacy, many countries have developed data privacy legislation with
varying degrees of protection. Legislation was typically enacted to protect the
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ever increasing amount of data held on computers, much of it unknown to the
data subjects, as well as data transferred between organisations – nationally and
internationally (known as trans-border data flows). The first of these laws that
specifically addressed the issue of computer-based information appeared in
Europe in the early 1980s, though only after EEC pressure [Langford, 1995] e.g.
the 1984 Data Protection Act in the UK [Moulton, 1989; Wong, 1994]. A more
recent, and very comprehensive example of a data protection law, is that enacted
in the Special Autonomous Region of Hong Kong in the People's Republic of
China. This key provisions of this legislation, enacted in December 1996, are
introduced briefly as they provide a comprehensive view of the data protection
In 1996, the Hong Kong Government enacted the data privacy ordinance
and set up the Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data (PCO). This
office has many responsibilities, including promoting awareness of the ordinance,
approving codes of practice relating to implementation, investigating suspected
breaches of the ordinance and issuing enforcement notices to data users as
appropriate. The ordinance [PCO, 2000a], which is designed to protect the
privacy interests of living individuals in relation to personal data, comprises six
data protection principles, viz.:
Purpose and manner of collection - data should be collected in a fair and
lawful manner. Data users should explain to data subjects what data is
being collected and how it will be used;
Accuracy and duration of retention - personal data that has been collected
should be kept accurate, up-to-date, and for no longer than is necessary;
Use - data must only be used for the specific or directly-related purpose
for which it was collected. Any other use is conditional on consent of the
data subject;
Security - suitable security measures should be applied to personal data;
Information availability - data users should be open about the kind of data
that they store and what they use it for;
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Access - data subjects have the right to access their personal data, to
verify its accuracy, and to request correction.
Certain classes of data are exempted from the ordinance, including: data
held for recreational or domestic purposes (a personal address and telephone
number list, for example); certain employment related data may be exempted
from subject access (e.g. performance assessments); subject access and use
limitation exemptions may be provided for data considered to be prejudicial to the
public interest, including: security, defence, international relations, the prevention
and detection of crime, and assessment of taxes. The web pages of the PCO
provide considerably more detail than can be given here, including the complete
ordinance and examples of situations where the PCO was requested to investigate
suspected breaches of the ordinance.
The data privacy ordinance is primarily protective of the rights of individual
data subjects, who have the right to check "whether their personal data are held,
to obtain a copy of such data, and to have personal data corrected" [PCO,
2000b]. A direct consequence of the enactment of the ordinance is that all
organisations that keep personal data in Hong Kong need to ensure that they
follow the six data protection principles. This necessarily includes the
appointment of a data protection officer who is charged with registering with the
PCO the nature and details of data held by the organisation. The data protection
officer must ensure that data users (and other people with access to personal
data) are appropriately trained in security measures designed to prevent loss,
damage or inappropriate disclosure of data, while also establishing procedures
through which data subjects can apply for access to their data.
Bearing in mind the need that some SMEs have for DMSs, and hence
arguments that such data needs to be as fluid as possible, we can identify
several challenges to data protection legislation. First, it is very difficult to prove
that an organisation has data, since it requires the cooperation of the
organisation both to reveal that it has information, and to reveal how much
information it possesses. Although the law specifies penalties for non-disclosure,
one can imagine that if all organisations refused to disclose the contents of their
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databases, it would be impractical for judicial authorities (most likely the police,
with their limited resources and expertise in this domain) to mount detailed
investigations of all their databases. This kind of limitation has lead to the PCO
being labelled a toothless tiger - it has laws at its disposal, but it is constrained in
the extent to which it can use those laws to investigated suspected
transgressors. With respect to junk electronic mail (spam) (email addresses
being commonly available by the million on CD ROM), the PCO advises that one
should first request (if possible in writing) the sender to desist spamming, thereby
exercising one’s right to ‘opt out’. If the spamming continues, one may refer the
case to the PCO – who, one suspects, may have great difficulty tracing the
source of the junk mail given the tendency to disguise identities. In practice, such
email spamming is very difficult to prevent, the more so as emails advertising the
existence of CDs with millions of email addresses use those same CDs to spam -
and need only a very low response rate (1% would be 10,000 responses in a
million) to justify the few dollars expended on the CD in the first place.
Electronic commerce is a case in point where data privacy is concerned
(particularly for the business-to-customer component), since e-com firms both
need to contact their potential customers (spamming seems a logical, if
unprofessional option), and need to collect personal data - names, addresses
and credit card information - in addition to the buying habits that customers
demonstrate through their use of their web sites. Such data can usefully be
recombined and further distributed to agencies that specialise in data collection
and dissemination, even though such data recombination is likely to be illegal - at
least in those jurisdictions that maintain data privacy legislation. Laudon [1996]
suggested a solution to the thorny ‘control of private data’ problem that
incorporates what he terms a ‘National Information Marketplace’. Essentially, any
individual can sell (as frequently as s/he likes) his/her information through an
information banking system to information buyers – who can do more or less
whatever they like with it - subject to legal constraints. Laudon points out that this
approach has the merit of giving some control back to individuals who can set the
price of buying their information. Furthermore, by centralising the exchange of
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information, information users have to be registered with a licensing authority that
must possess some regulatory power and hence ensure that there is no
wholesale misuse of information provided in this way, perhaps also acting as a
conduit for complaints about data use. Such an information exchange might
alleviate some of the legal restrictions that prevent data use by those
organisations most dependent upon it. At the same time, if an individual chooses
not to sell his/her information (at any price), protection should be guaranteed and
it would then be much easier to follow up any case of privacy violation, though
one suspects that given the current litigious climate in North America, there
would be fodder for lawyers for years to come.
One final challenge to privacy relates to what Roger Clarke [1999a]
termed dataveillance: “the systematic use of personal data systems in the
investigation or monitoring of the actions or communications of one or more
persons”, sometimes also referred to as electronic monitoring. Dataveillance can
take the form of video monitoring, telephone monitoring, web-site tracking, speed
of data entry for typists or lines of code generation for programmers, and email
content surveillance. See Clarke [1999b] for a detailed introduction and analysis
of the relevant issues in dataveillance, as well as extensive references and
hyperlinks to other relevant work.
Professional ethics is a contentious topic for an article, since
understandably few people like to be told either how to think or what to do! In the
preceding pages, we presented some of the arguments relating to four types of
ethical issues – codes of conduct/practice, intellectual property rights,
professional accountability and data privacy. Given the acknowledged
differences in IT application between nations and cultures [Martinsons and
Westwood, 1997], we do not believe that the international IS community will be
able to agree upon a comprehensive ethical code that will apply to all IS
professionals in all countries - despite the increasing communicative proximity
engendered by the so-called ‘global village’. Although the codes of ethics
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developed by several major professional associations, e.g. the ACM, CIPS, ACS,
BCS, are reasonably similar and would not cause much disagreement, there is
much in our work that is not currently codified or legislated. Furthermore, cultural
differences, while perhaps not so apparent between Europe and North America,
certainly are apparent when one considers the social and cultural values that
exist on the Western side of the Pacific Ocean. Such countries cannot be quietly
dismissed and ignored - not only do they have an important role to play in world
economic development, but this role is increasing in importance with most South
East Asian economies now beginning to bounce back after the financial crises of
the late 1990s.
There are arguments to the effect that these developing or recently
developed countries are merely following patterns of economic development that
occurred in Europe and North America, and so it is consequently inevitable that
political and social patterns will change in due course. This view seems to be an
ethno-centric (and perhaps politico-centric) - one that assumes that the Western
model of economic development is the only effective one - and that social and
professional values associated with that model are more or less uniform: when
you follow the road, the values come along as part of the package. Such
arguments neglect several millennia of independent cultural and social
development, and are naïve in their assumption that culture can be shaped by
external economic forces. Even a cursory reading of Hofstede’s [e.g. 1987, 1988,
1991] analyses of cultural differences should reveal sufficient variation to suggest
that societies do develop in different ways, and that principles relevant in one
culture may not be relevant in another.
Nevertheless, such economic rationalisations do not seem to help us very
much in an analysis of professional ethics, as they focus on hypothetical norms
rather than on what is actually the central issue - “do professional ethics really
matter, and what can we do about it?”. Most commentators would assert that
professional ethics are very important - if for disparate reasons - and many have
made attempts to unify the standards that they believe should apply. Oz [1992,
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p.432], for instance, suggests that the IS profession should adopt a unified code
which is “free of obligations to any specific country” and represents “an obligation
to mankind”. This is laudable, though one suspects that some countries would
see such a unified code as a form of attack on their national sovereignty or
interference with their domestic affairs. Oz [1992, p.433] also suggests that “an
ethics code without sanctions is a crocodile without teeth”. This is certainly true,
but leads to the suggestion that perhaps the IS profession should become, like
Law and Medicine, a controlled profession, where membership of a suitably
accredited national (or international) association is a requirement of practice.
Such a change in the nature of the profession might lead to much higher
standards of ethics, if only on a local/regional basis, since failure to observe
those ethical standards might lead to the loss of one’s right to work, quite apart
from any other legal charges.
An alternative perspective on this debate emerges if we consider, at least
rhetorically, what is going to happen if we don’t tighten up our ethical standards.
There is a distinct possibility that professional ethics will be hijacked by the key
profit-making organisations in our industry - the hardware and software
developers and consultancies - who will then seek to ensure, almost certainly
through legislative means, that their rights (as they define them) are protected,
and probably that their duties are minimised. Dan Couger predicted such
legislative tightening a decade ago when he wrote “unless professionals improve
their ethical practices, legislation will force them to do so” [Couger, 1989, p.211].
Indeed, the shift from industrial to post industrial/post capitalist/informational
society, predicted by Daniel Bell almost three decades ago [Bell, 1973], and
echoed by Peter Drucker [1993], is noteworthy for the implicit suggestion that the
source of power will lie ever more effectively with those who create and
manipulate information. The extent to which corporations can control information
flow is perhaps alarming. Lenzer and Shook [1998] demonstrate how when an
employee leaves one company to take another job, the work that s/he does is
constrained - under the guise of protecting confidential information to which the
former employee has had access and which s/he may not divulge. This kind of
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information control seems paradoxical in an economy supposed to thrive on
freedom of information. The resemblance with the centralised methods of control
practiced in supposedly controlled economies and closed societies, such as that
of the People’s Republic of China, bears further investigation. As Scollon [1998]
remarks, “while ‘Western’ corporations are globalizing trade practices, they are in
turn being globalized by adopting ‘Chinese’ practices of information control” and
“are actively constructing a dynastic world information system within the global
If the purpose of having professional ethics is to promote the quality of
goods, services and knowledge, and perhaps hopefully also contribute to the
well-being of society, then is that societal prosperity best guaranteed by ethical
standards protective of an individual person’s (or corporate person’s) creativity,
or those that are protective of a powerful (and perhaps corporate) elite’s
ownership and control of state-of-the-art knowledge? It seems that there is a
clear danger of the nation-state and its legal framework being supplanted by a
new hegemony - the globalising, corporate body - which claims rights and
protection for its products and knowledge, promoting ethical values that
correspond to its standards (irrespective of national or cultural boundaries, since
operations are increasingly transnational), while at the same time controlling
what we know, and what we do (or are allowed to do) with what we know.
Over-all, there is a critical need for heightened debate on professional
ethics in Information Systems. Although many professional associations
developed codes of conduct, these associations have limited powers – even if a
member is suspended or expelled, this cannot be a strong sanction so long as,
when considering wider employment issues, membership of a professional
association is optional. Changing the status of the IS profession to bring it into
line with the legal and medical professions might at least have the benefit of
giving such codes more teeth, and hence more respect. At the same time, it does
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not seem that an international code or association (at least on a mandatory
basis) is an appropriate solution given the wide cultural variations that exist.
Nevertheless, that cultural diversity is no reason to prevent us from encouraging
local and regional associations to develop their own codes and standards for
local enforcement. All codes evolve over time, and will influence one another.
Some readers may find the suspicions about corporate entities having
considerable say in a new world order too far-fetched for serious attention. Be
that as it may, it is likely that these corporate entities will at least attempt to flex
their legal(istic) muscles, defining for themselves what they believe their rights to
comprise, and what our duties are. This much they are already doing. There is no
knowing how much they may continue to do so, and we should, at minimum, be
watchful. It does not seem that the best interests of our society (now almost
wholly dependent on information systems) will be served if we keep quiet and
kowtow to the masters of the new world order. As academics and practitioners,
but above all as professionals, we have an obligation of responsibility towards
our various clients: students, consumers, customers and society. Given that
responsibility, it does seem necessary that we act to maintain our professional
independence, regulate our professional culture in a manner of our choosing and
identify the ethical values to which we aspire through codes of professional ethics
that are appropriate for our various cultures, times, places, and spaces.
1 A Confucian version of the Golden Rule is characterised by Martinsons and So [2000] as “do
not do unto others that which you would not want done to you”.
2 For an introduction to, and further information on, leapfrogging, see Davison et al. [2000].
Editor’s note: This article was received on March 2, 2000 and was published on April 3, 2000.
The author wishes to thank Duncan Langford, Maris Martinsons and Doug
Vogel for helpful comments made on earlier drafts of this article.
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EDITOR’S NOTE: The following reference list (as well as the text) contains hyperlinks
to World Wide Web pages. Readers who have the ability to access the Web directly
from their word processor or are reading the paper on the Web, can gain direct access
to these linked references. Readers are warned, however, that
1. these links existed as of 3-4-00 but are not guaranteed to be working thereafter.
2. the contents of Web pages may change over time. Where version information is
provided in the References, different versions may not contain the information or the
conclusions referenced.
3. the authors of the Web pages, not CAIS, are responsible for the accuracy of their
4. the author of this article, not CAIS, is responsible for the accuracy of the URL and version
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Robert M. Davison is Assistant Professor in the Department of
Information Systems at the City University of Hong Kong. His current research
interests involve an examination of the impact of Information Systems on group
decision making, communication and learning, particularly in cross-cultural and
developing country settings. He is co-page manager of ISWORLD’s Professional
Ethics and Global IT pages. His work has been published by Information and
Management, the Information Systems Journal, Communications of the ACM and
Decision Support Systems.
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Communications of AIS Volume 3, Article 8 34
Professional Ethics in Information Systems: A Personal Perspective by
R. M. Davison
Paul Gray
Claremont Graduate University
Henry C. Lucas, Jr.
New York University
Paul Gray
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... In a fairly similar sense, [40] in the sixth and final volume of La Méthode, titles one of his chapters Ethics of Reliance. He defines it as follows: "The notion of reliance fills a conceptual void by giving a substantive nature to what was only conceived objectively and by giving an active character to this noun. ...
... Machines should be able to make ethical decisions using ethical frameworks [9]. References [40] and [41] or [42] note the importance of assigning responsibility, especially given the seriousness of the potential consequences of an error. Some authors suggest identifying levels of responsibility (individually, hierarchical, collective and organizational) or suggest assigning responsibilities according to the role of stakeholders, according to their decision-making [24], [22], [43]. ...
Conference Paper
Full-text available
The aim of this conceptual article is to show that one cannot propose measures, actions, and decisions to improve algorithmic systems ethics of without first choosing an ethical theoretical position. In this perspective, we proceeded in two stages. First, we identify the main ethical theorical positions proposed by the philosophical literature. Secondly, we characterize and synthetize three different ethical issues posed by algorithmic systems, and we show that the repercussions of the choice of an ethical theorical position for each category of ethical issues of algorithmic systems lead to different decisions. We show that for each category of ethical problems, the ethical decisions and their repercussions differ according to the ethical theory chosen. The value of this paper is to show that the literature on algorithmic systems ethics does not take into account the implications of choosing an ethical position. Indeed, before trying to solve ethical issues, agreements, discussions, are needed to take into account the different ethical theorical positions and their repercussions in terms of decision.
... Researchers have posited that the analysis of ethical challenges for emerging technologies must unify the three classical approaches of ethics namely, Teleology, Deontology, and Virtue Ethics, along with challenges that are peculiar to the technology ( Moor, 1999 ;Davison, 2000 ;Stahl et al., 2012 ;Thekkilakattil & Dodig-Crnkovic, 2015 ;Tang et al, 2019 ). ...
... Accountability encourages good behaviour on the part of individuals and entities and helps in fixing responsibility when things go wrong. Accountability also implies liability which helps identify who should pay compensation if held responsible for an action, even if harm has not arisen because of deliberate or direct action ( Davison, 2000 ). At an organizational level, this ensures that extra care is taken to evaluate which systems can cause loss and who will be accountable for the loss so that suitable planning and mitigation strategies can be devised to develop and manage such processes and systems. ...
Full-text available
Developments in blockchain technology coupled with rapid developments in network technologies have disrupted traditional business and service models. One such application is in the domain of healthcare. However, the domain's sensitive nature and complexity require blockchain-enabled e-healthcare to ensure utilitarianism while suitably addressing the associated ethical challenges. In this milieu, the paper attempts to identify and evaluate the parameters of ethical challenges associated with blockchain adoption in e-healthcare. This paper contributes to the extant body of knowledge by presenting a critical review of the ethical considerations at the meso level of blockchains in e-healthcare. Based on findings from the literature, the study identified nine parameters of blockchain ethics. Of these, Accuracy and Right to be Forgotten were found to be most critical in terms of ethical dilemmas in healthcare applications. No evidence of ethical dilemma could be found with respect to Accountability and Data Ownership. As these services are deployed over networks, all these challenges are further evaluated in the context of 6G networks-based models. This will not only provide the stakeholders with a holistic view of the ethical challenges in various blockchain-enabled healthcare applications but also enable a meticulous transition to the 6G network.
... Thus, designers need to consider the intended and unintended consequences (Ransbotham et al., 2016;Majchrzak et al., 2016), by focusing on responsibility and ethical aspects to support this process. The Information Systems (IS) discipline has a sustained record of raising and addressing ethical concerns about IS, and technologies in general (e.g., Mason, 1986;Banerjee et al., 1998;Smith & Hasnas, 1999;Davison, 2000;Mingers & Walsham, 2010;Niederman, 2021). This special issue follows this cumulative tradition of academic discourse and knowledge by seeing vistas beyond technology (Stoodley et al., 2010), specifically AI. 1 h t t p s : / / w w w . ...
... This issue of responsibility is very current, particularly with the development of Artificial Intelligence (AI) ( (Brey, 2000). Davison (2000) and Stahl (2004) note the importance of assigning responsibility, especially given the seriousness of the potential consequences of an error. Some authors, such as Bovens (2007) Similarly, when it comes to autonomous machine algorithms, developers should try to empower the systems themselves to make ethical decisions (Dennis et al., 2015). ...
Society as a whole is faced with the growing use of algorithms. The purpose of this communication is to examine the ethical questions raised by this situation and to confront these ethical questions with three ethical theories (ethical, consequentialist, reliance). It is therefore a question both of suggesting a synthesis of the major encountered ethical problems by clustering them into three themes, furthermore of also of analysing them according to ethical theories. We show that the answers can differ greatly depending on the ethical theory put forward. Thus, the first step when trying to respond to ethical problems is indeed to "choose" an ethical stand.
... This approach is also the subject of an emerging research current in computer ethics Brey (2000). Davison (2000) and Stahl (2004) note the importance of assigning responsibility, especially given the seriousness of the potential consequences of an error produced. This paper, which questions the accountability of algorithms, is fully in line with these two ethical issues. ...
The operation of algorithms can produce unexpected, surprising, disturbing and even undesirable effects. But their governmentality, that is to say, their responsibility and their relation to what is or should be "just", remains delicate to implement. This paper proposes to give a framework to the governmentality of algorithms by applying a reading grid based on Edgar Morin's three principles (dialogic, hologram, recursivity). Even if we accept the idea that the algorithms that govern us are vectors of explicit or implicit choices, we must think that they can account for, or even be responsible for, the effects and actions they cause.
... Future research could focus on embedding ethical ISD and ethical decision-making within new ISD methodologies in order to empower ISD teams rather than leaving such concerns to professional bodies and organisations. Addressing this gap in knowledge is important as ethical ISD has received limited attention from the IS community in recent years (Smith and Hasnas, 1999;Davison, 2000;Stapleton, 2008;Chatterjee et al., 2009;Vartiainen, 2010;Mingers and Walsham, 2010;Myers and Klein, 2011;Robertson et al., 2019). Future research can examine the role of ISD and emerging technologies (e.g. ...
... Cette approche fait également l'objet d'un courant de recherche émergent en éthique de l'informatique (Brey, 2000). Davison (2000) et Stahl (2004) notent l'importance d'attribuer des responsabilités, notamment compte tenu de la gravité des conséquences potentielles d'une erreur produite Cette communication qui interroge la redevabilité des algorithmes s'inscrit pleinement dans ces deux questionnements éthiques. Veiller à leur pleine-responsabilité et à leur non-discrimination est en effet un objectif majeur de l'enjeu de redevabilité. ...
Conference Paper
Full-text available
Le fonctionnement des algorithmes peut produire des effets inattendus, surprenants, inquiétants voire indésirables. Mais leur gouvernementalité, c'est-à-dire finalement leur responsabilité et leur rapport à ce qui est ou devrait être "juste", reste délicate à mettre en oeuvre. Cette communication se propose justement de donner un cadre à la gouvernementalité des algorithmes en appliquant une grille de lecture fondée sur les trois principes de Edgar Morin (dialogique, récursion, hologramme). Il s'agit, même si nous acceptons l'idée que les algorithmes qui nous gouvernent sont vecteurs de choix explicites ou implicites, de penser qu'ils puissent rendre compte, voire même être redevables ou responsables des effets et actions qu'ils causent.
Dans cette communication à visée conceptuelle, nous souhaitons faire l’analyse des dilemmes éthiques posés par les algorithmes en mobilisant la démarche de la connaissance complexe proposée par Edgar Morin. Plus exactement, nous allons nous concentrer sur ses trois principes clés : le principe dialogique, le principe de récursivité organisatrice et le principe hologrammique. Nous allons donc nous appuyer sur ces principes pour savoir comment les dilemmes éthiques posés par les systèmes algorithmiques peuvent être compris, analysés, traduits. Dès lors, dans un premier temps nous allons replacer dans une réflexion éthique les principaux dilemmes éthiques soulevés par les algorithmes, pour ensuite, les examiner au prisme des trois principes clés de E. Morin. Dans cette communication à visée conceptuelle, nous souhaitons faire l’analyse des dilemmes éthiques posés par les algorithmes en mobilisant la démarche de la connaissance complexe proposée par Edgar Morin. Plus exactement, nous allons nous concentrer sur ses trois principes clés : le principe dialogique, le principe de récursivité organisatrice et le principe hologrammique. Nous allons donc nous appuyer sur ces principes pour savoir comment les dilemmes éthiques posés par les systèmes algorithmiques peuvent être compris, analysés, traduits. Dès lors, dans un premier temps nous allons replacer dans une réflexion éthique les principaux dilemmes éthiques soulevés par les algorithmes, pour ensuite, les examiner au prisme des trois principes clés de E. Morin.
His current research interests involve an examination of the impact of Information Systems on group decision making, communication and learning, particularly in cross-cultural and developing country settings. He is co-page manager of ISWORLD's Professional Ethics and Global IT pages
  • M Robert
Robert M. Davison is Assistant Professor in the Department of Information Systems at the City University of Hong Kong. His current research interests involve an examination of the impact of Information Systems on group decision making, communication and learning, particularly in cross-cultural and developing country settings. He is co-page manager of ISWORLD's Professional Ethics and Global IT pages. His work has been published by Information and Management, the Information Systems Journal, Communications of the ACM and Decision Support Systems.
The following reference list (as well as the text) contains hyperlinks to World Wide Web pages
  • Editor's Note
EDITOR'S NOTE: The following reference list (as well as the text) contains hyperlinks to World Wide Web pages. Readers who have the ability to access the Web directly from their word processor or are reading the paper on the Web, can gain direct access to these linked references. Readers are warned, however, that
Business Software Alliance, Press Release: 'Worldwide Business Software Piracy Losses Estimated at Nearly $11 Billion in 1998
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