IT ethics may be defined as an analysis of the impact of information technology on the profession and society at large. It involves taking a look at how professionals in this sector need to be making their decisions. This course has exposed me to the importance and challenges that IT ethics presents to professionals.
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In the online discussions, we defined what IT ethics was, took a look at social networking websites, and discussed the importance of new technologies for global change. In terms of IT ethics, we talked about how challenging the topic is for IT professionals because they do not have a regulatory body like the American Medical Association for medics. I knew that the internet plays an important role in IT ethics, and this was confirmed when the discussion board members brought up topics about privacy, hacking, internet censorship, piracy, licensing, and many more.
Although I had prior knowledge about these issues, I came to realize that there were certain angles I had not thought about. For example, some members talked about the existence of ethical hacking. It seemed like an oxymoron, but some individuals seemed to have the right motives for hacking. Furthermore, I found out that IT professionals may find it difficult to say no to a customer (Himma, 2008). Some group members questioned the uniqueness of IT ethics by explaining that computers are just vehicles for doing the same ethical or unethical things. Plagiarism or piracy was still wrong even if it was done on a computer. Stealing and stalking were still the same despite using this platform. Their perspectives got me to think about how complicated IT ethics truly is. Ethical choices are determined by one’s religious or social background, and these perceptions tend to change from person to person.
We also talked about the ethics of social networking websites in online discussions. I realized that the question of privacy was really important. Some discussion members raised the issue of identity theft; where someone logs into another person’s Facebook account, and posts damaging information on the victim’s wall. Alternatively, someone may create an account using the photos and names of another individual, to ruin that person’s reputation. Social networking websites made it relatively easy to do this because security settings are not stringent on these sites. I also came to learn that social networking sites have been used to spread political propaganda; this has led to war in some countries.
There was no consensus on whether doing this was a good thing or a bad thing. Some members thought that the wars created in Middle Eastern countries were necessary to create long term peace. Others thought that it was inflammatory and unnecessary. Many people were also concerned about the collection and use of their personal information (as described in social networking sites) by corporate entities. They can buy these profiles from the owners of the social networking sites, and use them to their won advantage. By the end of our discussion on social networking websites, I learned some new things such as the exploitation of personal profiles for corporate gains, and the issue of security settings on Facebook and Twitter. These were all concepts that I had not thought about, but the discussion opened my eyes to them.
In terms of ethics in new technologies for global change, we talked about data mining, software prediction, viruses, face recognition, and ubiquitous technology. About viruses, I knew that most of them are created as a source of revenue. The viruses get into people’s computers and disrupt their normal tasks. This means that they have to buy antiviruses to get rid of them (Himma, 2008). The people who design viruses are the same ones who sell antiviruses so that they can earn a profit from them. After the discussions, I learned a lot more about the ethical components of viruses. Sometimes, it can be done by malicious individuals to ruin another organization’s productivity or profitability. When we talked about software prediction, face recognition, ubiquitous technology, and data mining, I learned that privacy may become a big issue in the future of IT. This may inspire many organizations to take on tailor-made measures to protect privacy such as face recognition. Conversely, data mining and software prediction may keep compromising this same phenomenon.
The presentations were the highlight of the whole course-load this semester. First, I realized that there was so much one could learn from one’s peers. Even though most of us were talking about more or less the same thing, it was quite common to find a fresh revelation about a certain topic. For example, one group talked about computer crime, and they informed me about the need to balance between law and ethics. It was not always proper for IT professionals to act recklessly just because something was not regulated. I also learned the importance of teamwork when we were preparing for the presentation. At some point, I was being too overbearing in the group.
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Some of my group members had their own opinions about ethical issues, but I kept shooting down their ideas without providing suitable replacements. Other members told me about this and I had to step back. I was humbled by the experience, but it made me a better team player. I learned that it was important to respect other people’s opinions even if I thought I was right. This presentation also sharpened my confidence and public speaking skills. I was looking forward to that moment when I would get a chance to speak in front of all my course mates, yet I was also worried about my level of composure. All went well as we managed to get our point across without any major hitches. It turns out that I was not the only one who was concerned about it.
In the presentation, my group talked about the ethical and social ramifications of online games. In our analyses, we highlighted six key issues: virtual crimes, virtual prostitution, virtual violence, game addiction, isolation, and obesity. When we were preparing for the presentation with my group mates, there was so much I did not know about the information that we would later talk about. For instance, I knew that virtual crimes existed, but was never really sure about how they occurred or how they were facilitated. After doing some online research, I found out that some gamers dedicate a lot of time and money (through membership payments) to get game-related rewards.
They ultimately take their winnings to online trading companies like eBay and sell them to the highest bidder. This means that they can get real money for in-game items. Sometimes, fake in-game items are sold, thus resulting in theft; in these cases, customers send credit card details to certain individuals with the hope of purchasing those game wares only to realize that nothing was being sold. All these acts constitute real crimes. I found out that something as seemingly innocent as an online game could be turned into a fraudulent scheme. I also realized that the game owners had an ethical responsibility to curb these practices by stopping the sale of their wares. Few companies have thought about these possibilities. I found that this information was quite interesting as I was completely unaware of it.
In the presentation, we also talked about the issue of virtual prostitution. I was also surprised that these acts were going on. I did not know that all that was needed was some sort of virtual currency, a method of chatting – avatars were given the greatest precedence, the presence of rating service, and the brothel where the virtual prostitutes can be found. I realized that this issue had certain complications especially concerning ethical issues. Questions of illegality were raised. Some members of our group revealed that phone sex came quite close to virtual prostitution, but there were certain technical differences between them. I learned that online game service providers had a certain level of responsibility for virtual prostitution. Issues of child endangerment can also arise when a child uses a virtual escort, yet this game is supposed to be for adults only. A parent can decide to sue the gaming service provider. If one does not address the ethical issues that are relevant to one’s IT services, then legal suits may arise at a later date and may affect the gaming organization.
I learned most of the IT ethics issues from my colleagues during the presentations and in the online discussions as well. However, I did my research by reading some journal articles and books on IT ethics. I found the internet to be highly useful for information because it had some of the latest findings on particular topics. It was quite easy for me to compare expert opinions or researches on an ethical subject without wasting a lot of time. I also learned a lot from the course materials as they taught me how to analyze ethical dilemmas, how to balance between legal and moral obligations, and they taught me the importance of having an ethics code of conduct.
Everything I have learned during this semester will likely have a serious impact on my professional and personal life. I will be a better IT professional if I can perform my duties ethically. I will also spare my organization from incurring huge losses that may emanate from law suits from unsatisfied customers. As a person, I have learned how to become a better team player. I have also sharpened my self-confidence and communication skills. This was the time that was well spent.
Himma, K. (2008) The handbook of information and computer ethics, NJ, Wiley Interscience.