The Programmer Ethos Advocated by Bob Stuart

Executive Summary

This paper delves into the programmer ethos advocated by Bob Stuart and attempts to dissect it based on a variety of ethical frameworks in order to determine whether his ethical position is dubious or legitimate.

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Who are the key stakeholders represented in this case study?

When examining the various factors in this case studying involving the distribution of gambling software, it was determined that there are 2 main stakeholders, namely:

  • Bob Stuart and his Company
  • The government and its agents who are accusing Stuart of illegally abetting in illegal online betting.

For each key stakeholder group describe the situation from their professed viewpoint

Point of View of Stuart and his Company

From the point of view of Stuart and his company, he did nothing wrong when he made and distributed the software to various international users. His argument focuses on what he deems as the concrete fact that he should not be held liable for what other people did with his software. In order to better understand this viewpoint, this paper will examine the rhetoric in the arguments presented in order to better understand the logic behind them.

Rhetoric can be described as the use of language in order to achieve a persuasive effect on people, in other words, it is a form of delivery that entails being able to convince people of the validity of the argument being given. On the other hand under Aristotle’s treatise on rhetoric, the concept of ethos is thus defined as the credibility of a speaker in which through this credibility they are able to convince people that he/ she is believable in what he/she is saying. What must be understood is that programmers have a great deal of understanding regarding what constitutes progressive behaviour both in the creation of software and on the internet.

As such, they are often considered to be a reliable source of information regarding what changes should be implemented and what types of programming can be utilized. In this particular case, the use of rhetoric by the programmer can be seen in his statement regarding freedom of sale, open access to information and information sharing.

He is trying to justify his actions by stating that through his own experiences in this current field of interest, he knows what constitutes legal/illegal activity and what is simply another type of business arrangement. It is based on this that the programmer is attempting to convince listeners that on the basis of his experience in the development of software applications, he in effect did nothing wrong despite the fact that his software had a high likelihood of being utilized in illegal gambling practices by its very nature.

What are the major areas of conflict between these viewpoints?

The major areas of conflict in this particular case lies in a difference in views regarding the distribution of software and its potential effects. On the one hand, you have Stuart saying that he developed and distributed his software legally, and it is meant only for companies that are based in regions where online gambling is legal. From the point of view of the government, it is the manner in which the software was created wherein it had the potential to aid in illegal gambling activities which is a cause for concern since, despite Stuart saying that he did not distribute his software to illegal buyers, the fact remains that it still had the potential to promote illegal online gambling which it was utilized n.

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Point of View of the Government

From the point of view of the government, what Stuart did in licensing and distributing his software is considered a breach of the law since by the very design it could, and did, promote gambling activities which were considered illegal in the state of New York. What must be taken into consideration is the fact that upon examination, the ethical argument of the programmer does indeed have merit given that it seems to be a simple business arrangement that the government is taking out of context.

If Aristotle’s treatise on rhetoric is to be used, then it can be said that the position the programmer is taking in trying to be persuasive in his message regarding the legality of his actions is one based on the concept of ethos in which he justifies his request for the charges to be taken away based on his expertise in the field and how he perceives what he did as being completely legal. What must be understood though is that while such a method of argument is in fact rather effective in the case of programmers, one cannot help but think his ethos of not being responsible for what others use his program for is rather self-serving in terms of allowing him to justify his future actions in terms of what he believes is right.

International Code of Ethics

According to studies such as those by Giustozzi & Van Der Veer Martens (2011), the concept of accountability should not be interchanged with that of responsibility. Responsibility is considered the manner in which a programmer is responsible for the actions of their software to a certain degree (Giustozzi & Van Der Veer Martens 2011, pp. 1-12).

This does not mean that they are liable for all errors committed; rather, they are responsible for actions committed which are done based on what the software was meant to accomplish which they knowingly programmed into the code of the software. In the case of accountability, this takes the form of being accountable for the success or failure of particular programs based on their performance. A programmer cannot simply offset the blame towards his/her clients; rather, regardless of errors committed that programmer was still liable for the aftereffects of the program and should face the consequences of such actions.

Australian Computer Society (ACS)

When examining the ethical provisions of the ACS, there is one aspect of it that is immediately relevant to the case, and that is the impact of one’s work on the public interest. This means that while a programmer is free to develop a piece of software for commercial applications, he/she needs to take into consideration how his/her work could potentially adversely impact the lives of other people (Bowern et al. 2006, pp. 169-181).

While it may seem that in the case of Stuart and his company that his actions are “legal”, the fact remains that since the program can knowingly contribute to illegal gambling which is regulated due to its negative societal effects this means that he did not follow the proper ethical guidelines if he was part of the ACS since his work can, and possibly did, contribute to an illegal activity that did nothing for the general public good (Warren 2006, pp. 167-168).

British Computer Society (BCS)

In comparison, the same can situation can be seen in the case of the British Computer Society wherein it is implicitly stated in their ethics training apprenticeship program that ethical action needs to be one of the cornerstones of a software developer and this takes into consideration not only who you develop the software for but what can it be utilized for if the proper safeguards are not put in place (Goth 2004, pp. 96-99).

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In the case study, it can be seen that Stuart did not put in the proper safeguards to ensure that the software could not be shared between a legal institution and an illegal one. This lack of a sufficient safeguard contributed significantly to its use in illegal gambling and should have been a fact that he had to look out for but did not. Various companies put blockers to ensure that their proprietary software could not be shared to illegal parties and for use in purposes that they were not originally intended. So it is strange that Stuart had not put in a similar practice which the BCS states are almost a standard aspect of many types of software at the present which are utilized in highly sensitive industries (Gilbert 2009, p. 5).

Comparison to China

In a rather surprising comparison, it was seen in the case of the programming ethics of China that more focus is placed on the intended effect of software rather than liability being placed on the programmer for the use of the software outside its intended use (Best 2006, pp. 213-235). This means that for China, what Stuart did was perfectly legal and could even be constituted as being protected under their intellectual property law. When examining the case of China, it was noted that there is a distinct lack of corporate social responsibility framework within the country which more than likely contributes towards this position of actually considering the lack of ethics on the part of Stuart as being ethical (Botes 2012, pp. 927-928).

Ethical Framework

The concept of ethos can be described as a form of guiding beliefs that are an inherent part of a community of nations character. It is used as a guide that influences a person’s behaviour to such an extent that by examining the ethos behind a culture you can determine how they will react based on a given situation (Swaidan 2012, pp. 201-213). It due to this that concepts behind any form of ethos must first be subjected to intense examination before it is shown to have been constructed under a proper ethical and moral framework.

It must be noted that the set of ethical boundaries embodied by the ethos of programmers have actually dictated the course of the programmer culture leading to instances of innovation in order to give consumers a choice over the software bundles sold to them by corporations at high prices.

What must be understood is that Ethos can also refer to the way one presents himself or herself in an argument. This particular “image” refers to a persuaders “character” in the sense that a person is attempting to persuade another person of the righteousness of their statements based on their inherent character. In the case of the ethos of the programmer in the case, this takes the form of the programmer attempting to convince other people of the righteousness of his cause on the basis of the image that they are portraying, namely, as individuals that have a great deal of experience and knowledge regarding computer systems and how they work. It is this argument on the basis of a projected image that is a cause for concern since basing it on a person’s knowledge, and experience alone does not justify the action itself.

For example, a person may argue for the righteousness of a cause on the basis of their knowledge of the event yet this attempt at persuasion may in itself be self-serving for the person that is attempting to persuade other individuals.

An examination of the motivations behind the ethos of the programmer reveals that should individuals accept his form of ethos and implement it, it benefits programmers more so than regular individuals since in essence, it is an argument that states that a programmer is not liable for how their software is used. The programmer ethos in itself is actually self-serving towards the programmer since it justifies his actions under the basis of a righteous cause (i.e. merely be an entrepreneurial businessman) yet in the end is more beneficial to them than to other individuals (i.e. promotion of gambling in areas where gambling is prohibited).

In the case of ethos, what must be understood is that it is “artifice”, meaning that is created, manufactured, made, constructed etc. It can be considered a type of surface image which may, in fact, have an entirely fictitious relationship to what is actually true. The same can be said for ethos wherein the method in which the idea is “packaged” drastically changes the perception of the audience towards accepting the idea itself or the validity of its statements.

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In the case of the programmer, the ethos, when boiled down to its very essence, is merely a statement which says the following: “let me do what I want with computer systems and programs”. It is in the way that it is packaged and presented to the public that changes the perception of the public to the idea that is being presented. What the public sees is an argument for freedom and innovation what it is, in essence, is a statement to be allowed to do whatever they want.

In the case of the ethos that the programmer is advocating, its justification is based on the knowledge and experience of the programmer yet there is nothing actually stating that the various principles that it is composed of, though appearing ethically sound, were created on the basis of ethics alone. For example, while he acknowledged the fact that his software could have been utilized and “rented out” to other businesses where gambling is illegal, he himself should be absolved from the blame since he was unaware of such an event. The problem with this is that the fact that he knew it was a possibility and the very nature of the software itself could have allowed this to occur shows how he knowingly developed and released a product that could have resulted in illegal gambling activities.

Individual Opinion

Based on the presented information it can be seen that ethos can be manufactured and created for a certain purpose and in the case of the ethos professed by the programmer, its basis is one which advocates the freedom to let programmers do what they want without regard for the consequences of the use of their software. The fact remains that due to reasoning of the ethos advocated by not only this programmer but others in the same field that keeps on justifying itself on the basis of the knowledge of programs regarding certain systems, programs and methods of operation it shows itself to be inherently flawed.

The ethical flaw in this particular case is the fact that basing a system of ethos on inherent knowledge and expertise creates far too many risks in terms of the ethical principles behind the creation of the ethos itself. In fact, further examination of the ethos of the programmer reveals that it seems more self-serving to the programmer than to the general public since his software promotes what the government has deemed as illegal.

As it was established earlier, the concept of ethos can be shaped and molded in order to entice greater public support for a particular issue. That is what is being seen in the case of the programmer wherein the justification for actions is based on an ethos that has been molded to create positive public opinion, but in fact, is nothing more than a method of allowing the programmer to do what he pleases.

The Spread of Internet use, Information Technologies and the Hacker Ethos

The concept of open access to information is actually based on the U.N declaration of human rights which specifically states that people have the right to free access of public information, especially those concerning the activities of the government. This particular concept was adopted by the present-day hacker culture to mean transparency in the development of systems and direct access to information, hidden by the government or private institutions.

For hackers, open access to systems means an ability to analyze the way they are constructed, learn their fundamental aspects and build upon them to either enhance or reinvent the systems in a way that is better in terms of functionality and usability. It has been shown that open access to information often leads to greater levels of creativity resulting in the development of better and more efficient information systems and programs. On the other hand, corporations argue their right to maintain the integrity of their proprietary systems due to the sheer amount of expense and investment they devoted towards their creation.

These corporations do have a point; the amount of work and money that went into the development of various programs and systems constitutes a multi-billion dollar international industry that provides jobs to thousands of people. They are able to make money due to their possession of a particular system or program that is a necessity to a large consumer market. Take for example Microsoft, it is one of the largest software companies in the world and has nearly 90% of the total PC market in terms of overall sales of its software series. Allowing access to the proprietary information that went into the development of its systems is the same as wasting all the time and effort that went into creating that particular operating system. Open access in this case means a high degree of possible replication, resulting in the loss of company profits.

The basis of this argument can be seen in the pirated software industry where illegal copies of Microsoft operating systems have resulted in billions of dollars lost in potential profits. Aristotle states that “even when laws have been written down, they ought not always to remain unaltered”, in this particular case it can be seen that the written law is the intellectual property right companies have over software while open source initiatives represent a possible alteration to this “law”. It must be noted that current intellectually property laws, while designed to protect the rights of companies, are actually inhibiting the progress of software.

Such an argument is based on the fact that open source initiatives have been shown to have a greater degree of innovation and exploration of new methods as compared to isolated developments within a company. While it may be true that for companies the concept of the hacker ethos that believes in open access to information is in fact bad for company profits, it actually all boils down to the lack of will on the part of the company to innovate itself to such an extent that, it could make a profit while at the same time allowing open access to developed information. The argument of hackers in this case is that the software sold my Microsoft is too overpriced and cannot be afforded by a large percentage of the global population.

The result is a strange twist in ethics wherein under the belief that there should be an open access to information hackers take it upon themselves to crack the various safeguards placed on proprietary systems and software in order for it to be distributed for free online. This can be seen on the various torrent files available on Piratebay.org where operating systems such as Windows 7 have been sufficiently cracked by hackers so as to be able to be installed by most users.

This apparent “Robin Hood” like behavior, while based on the concept of the hacker ethos, is for the most part highly unethical in most cases. As such, it can be stated that what is happening right now is in fact a fight between two different kinds of ethos namely the ethos of openness and sharing as advocated by hackers or isolation and integrated development with profit in mind as shown by corporations.

While it is not a representation of all people within the hacker culture, it has been noted that various “moral” hackers do attempt to crack into various proprietary systems just for the sake of being able to do so. An examination of famous hackers such as Kevin Mitnick reveals that for them the concept of the hacker ethos is a method of prevention for excessive government or corporate control over the internet or the development of software.

Aristotle states “for the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them”, in this particular case it can be seen that the hacker ethos in which systems are breached or software is de-encrypted is actually under the concept of learning by doing wherein innovation is actually done through action and in this particular case it is development of new systems, attempting to crack software and use it for their own end or other similar types of behavior. The fact is in the eyes of hackers the only true way for innovation to drive itself forward is by experimenting and attempting to go beyond what companies seem users to be capable of. They state that they mean no harm but the fact remains that cracking a particular system or program is still considered an illegal action.

Reference List

Best, K 2006, ‘Visceral Hacking or Packet Wanking? The Ethics of Digital Code’, Culture, Theory & Critique, 47, 2, pp. 213-235, Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost.

Botes, V 2012, ‘Flight of fantasy: writing a full proof “code” for ethics’, Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, 25, 5, pp. 927-928, Business Source Premier, EBSCOhost.

Bowern, M, Burmeister, O, Gotterbarn, D, & Weckert, J 2006, ‘ICT integrity: bringing the acs code of ethics up to date’, Australasian Journal Of Information Systems, 13, 2, pp. 169-181, Business Source Premier, EBSCOhost.

Gilbert, T 2009, ‘Ethics in Social Work: A Comparison of the Intl Statement of Principles in SW with the British Code’, Journal Of Social Work Values & Ethics, 6, 2, p. 5, Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost.

Giustozzi, E, & Van Der Veer Martens, B 2011, ‘The new competitive intelligence agents: “Programming” competitive intelligence ethics into corporate cultures’, Webology, 8, 2, pp. 1-12, Library, Information Science & Technology Abstracts, EBSCOhost.

Goth, G 2004, ‘Source Code Controversies Not Just about Security’, IEEE Software, 21, 4, pp. 96-99, Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost.

Swaidan, Z 2012, ‘Culture and Consumer Ethics’, Journal Of Business Ethics, 108, 2, pp. 201-213, Business Source Premier, EBSCOhost.

Warren, M 2006, ‘AJIS FEATURED THEME: ETHICS IN INFORMATION SYSTEMS’, Australasian Journal Of Information Systems, 13, 2, pp. 167-168, Business Source Premier, EBSCOhost.

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