A commentary of Computer Ethics by Deborah G. Johnson (4th edition)

Professor Porfirio Barroso and Lucía Tello PhD


On the occasion of the publishing in Spanish language of the bestseller Computer Ethics written by the author Deborah G. Johnson, the translators of this work (Porfirio Barroso and Lucía Tello) believe relevant to discuss about the most important topics of this book (Ética informática y Ética e Internet in its Spanish version), due to approach the revision of how the Computer Science has been changed by the different events emerged in the Technological Society Age.

In these days, Technology is not a mere tool, but also a value. Every action we carry out online implies new ethical dilemmas born under the aegis of the IT. Recent social networks and communities have not only positive effects as its contribution to socialising, sharing global knowledge, or helping to develop relationships between citizens and to bring together people all around the world (namely, Blogs, wikis, social networks, tweeting, podcasts or social tagging). The author confirms that there are also problems related with basic human rights like privacy or intimacy and property, which result damaged by the action of these new technological tools.

The so called eDemocracy harm some important and inviolable values without the conscience of the users in particular (and citizens in general), who ignore where their data go when they share them without suspicion. This is, precisely, the new point of Computer Ethics 4th Edition: the approach of the sociotechnical computer ethics.

With a profuse and detailed structure of chapters, the readers will find a thematical approach through seven different aspects. The fist one, an introduction to Sociotechnical Computer Ethics, in which Johnson develop three scenarios which reproduce the virtual problems emanated from the use of the Internet, from a sociotechnical perspective and rejecting technological determinism.

In the second chapter, Johnson introduces a descriptive analysis of the different ethical methods of approach to the Computer Ethics and Internet Ethics. Utilitarianism, Dialectic Theory, Deontological Theory and Rights and social Contract Theory, are scanned to have a wide perspective about how to revise properly the Computer Ethics.

Under the title “Ethics in IT-Configured Societies”, Johnson explains how the technology is converted in instrumentation of human action, referring specially to cyborgs, robots and their connection with human beings. Google or Turnitin are two enterprises which are analyzed by the author emphasizing in the importance of their social implications. IT-configured domains of life open the wide world of virtuality, Avatars and Role-playing games, helping we out to discover how can plagiarism be detected in the Net.

Proceed from Privacy, Surveillance and Information flow, Johnson explores the concern of citizens about the importance of privacy. Evaluated as “individual good”, “contextual integrity”, and as a “social good essential for Democracy”, we travel around Email Privacy and Advertising, the Workplace spying, and the Data Mining and e-Business.

Descend from the digital intellectual property, in the fifth chapter we discover how easy results to obtain pirated software abroad, and the difference between free software that follows proprietary software, and the use of Public Domain Software in Proprietary Software. By the way, Johnson explains the philosophical basis of property, which is derived from the natural rights.

In the following chapter, the Wiki network and some Yahoo cases are used as basis of an extensive argumentation relative to law and order on the Internet. Hackers are in this part a significant point about how technology has transformed property and privacy conceptions. Sociotechnical security shows numerous breaches, which need to be mend in IT-Configured Societies. Wikipedia and its new order of knowledge production and the dilemma emanated from the freedom of expression and censorship, are questions studied by the author in the current chapter.

Finally, Deborah G. Johnson approach the study of Professional Ethics in Computing, focused on the state of the profession, and maintaining as crucial the formal organization, autonomy, the establishment of Codes of Ethics and Mastery of Knowledge.

With this paper we aim to explain the fundamental points stated by the author, trying to adapt some of the scenarios and cases into the European culture, given the fact that most of the issues translated into the continental context could seem remote and distant. However, is commendable the effort of the author to consider global cases not uniquely American (as Chinese, German or English) which contribute to a wider vision of the Computer Ethics problems.

This bestseller is, therefore, an exceptional opportunity to discover the dynamic which underlines the IT-Configured Societies, and a superb form of be conscious about what really happens when we share our data into the global Network.