Computer Ethics and Professional Responsibility

This clear and accessible textbook and its associated website offer a state-of-the-art introduction to the burgeoning field of computer ethics and professional responsibility.

Topics covered include the history of computer ethics; the social context of computing; methods of ethical analysis; professional responsibility and codes of ethics; computer security, risks, and liabilities; computer crime, viruses, and hacking; data protection and privacy; intellectual property and the “open source” movement; global ethics and the Internet.

Editorial introductions to each of the sections outline key issues and concepts in the field. The book is further enriched by a variety of classroom-tested case studies and study questions, as well as lists of useful websites and readings.

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Product Details & Reviews
Hardcover: 376 pages
Publisher: Wiley (September 19, 2003)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1855548445
ISBN-13: 978-1855548442
Product Dimensions: 9 x 6.2 x 1.3 inches

“Bynum and Rogerson succeed at the difficult task of putting together a lasting collection of papers for a cutting-edge field that changes direction every other month. The collection is essential for anyone doing advanced research on the ethical standards of computer professions. At the same time, the collection stands as an outstanding teaching text for most university courses.” – John Snapper, Illinois Institute of Technology

“This book includes significant pieces from members of the global computer ethics community. Among its strengths are the worked-out case studies for ethical analysis and a nice section on computer security. It is an ideal text for those teaching professional ethics.” – Frances S. Grodzinsky, Sacred Heart University

Computer Ethics and Professional Responsibility table of contents

Introductory Remarks

This web site contains supplementary materials to be used with the textbook Computer Ethics and Professional Responsibility edited by Terrell Ward Bynum and Simon Rogerson.

These materials include:

  1. Basic study questions for all of the Editors’ Introductions
  2. Sample answers to some of the Basic Study Questions in the textbook
  3. Sample student essays from course sections that used the textbook in the past
  4. Additional cases to analyze beyond those that are included in the textbook
  5. Links to additional on-line readings beyond the textbook
  6. Links to Internet resources suggested in the textbook
  7. Additional resources as they are identified or developed

Our plan is to make this web site a continuously expanding resource that will enrich and enliven the ideas and methods that are presented in the textbook. New related developments can be identified and highlighted, and historical and economic background ideas can be presented.

For more information on this textbook, please visit Blackwell Publishing. In the US, you can purchase this book from or visit in the UK.

Textbook Table of Contents

List of Contributors
Preface and Acknowledgments
List of Abbreviations
Editors’ Note: Computing Curricula 2001 Guidelines of IEEE-CS and the ACM
Editors’ Introduction: Ethics in the Information Age

PART I: What Is Computer Ethics?

  • Reason, Relativity, and Responsibility in Computer Ethics – James H. Moor
  • Unique Ethical Problems in Information Technology – Walter Maner
  • Ethical Decision-Making and Case Analysis in Computer Ethics – Terrell Ward Bynum
  • Additional Readings and Web Resources

PART II: Professional Responsibility

  • Unintentional Power in the Design of Computing Systems – Chuck Huff
  • Informatics and Professional Responsibility – Donald Gotterbarn
  • The Ethics of Software Development Project Management – Simon Rogerson
  • Case to Analyze: The London Ambulance Case
  • Additional Readings and Web Resources

PART III: Codes of Ethics

  • No, PAPA: Why Incomplete Codes of Ethics are Worse than None at All – N. Ben Fairweather
  • On Licensing Computer Professionals – Donald Gotterbarn
  • Case to Analyze: The Chemco Case
  • Additional Readings and Web Resources
  • Appendix: Example Codes of Ethics
  • A1 – The Software Engineering Code of Ethics and Professional Practice
  • A2 – The ACM Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct
  • A3 – The ACS Code of Ethics
  • A4 – The BCS Code of Conduct
  • A5 – The IEEE Code of Ethics
  • A6 – The IMIS Code of Ethics

PART IV: Sample Topics in Computer Ethics

  • Computer Security
  • Computer Security and Human Values – Peter G. Neumann
  • Are Computer Hacker Break-Ins Ethical? – Eugene H. Spafford
  • Case to Analyze: A Flight of Fancy at Aero Wright
  • Additional Readings and Web Resources
  • Privacy and Computing
  • Towards a Theory of Privacy in the Information Age – James H. Moor
  • Data Protection in a Changing World – Elizabeth France
  • Case to Analyze: A Small Matter of Privacy
  • Additional Readings and Web Resources
  • Computing and Intellectual Property
  • Proprietary Rights in Computer Software – Deborah G. Johnson
  • Why Software Should Be Free – Richard Stallman
  • Case to Analyze: Free-Range Property
  • Additional Readings and Web Resources
  • Global Information Ethics
  • The Computer Revolution and the Problem of Global Ethics – Krystyna Gorniak-Kocikowska
  • Giving Offence on the Internet – John Weckert
  • Case to Analyze: A Clever Idea
  • Additional Readings and Web Resources

A Final Case to Analyze: Corner Shop Goes Virtual

History of Computing

(The first version of this list, most of which remains here, was created in 2003 by Brian Williams, an undergraduate student at Southern Connecticut State University.)

The history of computing is a long and fascinating story that includes many different thinkers from a variety of countries and regions of the world. Today’s sophisticated computers are the results of an incremental process that unfolded over a number of centuries. Although the first electronic computer was created in the 1940s during the Second World War, there were many other important developments prior to that time, which are significant aspects of the history of computing. Indeed, one can look as far back into history as the Fourth Century BC to ancient Babylonia (now part of Iraq) where the abacus was invented. The abacus used physical objects like stones, sticks, beads or even lines drawn in sand to represent entities like sheep or other objects of trade – and eventually numbers. These “symbols” (representatives of objects other than themselves) were manipulated by moving them on a line or shaft or string. The position of the symbols in the overall symbol array became important and began to represent not only individual items or numbers, but also sets of items or numbers of a specified magnitude. Important computing concepts, therefore – like symbolic representation, symbol manipulation and positional notation – already were developed and applied thousands of years ago. Over the centuries, many more computing concepts had to be developed or discovered, and various physical or mechanical devices had to be invented, before today’s electronic computers could be created.

The web sites cited below provide a wealth of information about people, concepts, and physical devices that played a significant role in the history of computing. Several of these sites provide useful “timelines,” and many offer helpful photographs or diagrams. The sites are divided into three categories:

  • History of Computing Overall
  • History of the Internet
  • History of Computer Ethics

At the end of this page is a list of suggested paper topics that teachers may assign to their students, or students may choose to write about. Please check back often as this list will grow over time.


Computer History Museum
This is the web site of the Computer History Museum, whose home page contains the following invitation: “It’s not just a museum. It’s one of the largest collections of computer-related artifacts, documents, film, and photographs in the world. Here [on our web site], you can explore our online archives, browse the exhibits, or learn more about preserving this living history of the information age.”

Charles Babbage Institute: Center for the History of Information Technology
The Charles Babbage Institute is an historical archives and research center of the University of Minnesota. CBI is dedicated to promoting the study of the history of information technology and information processing and their impacts on society. CBI preserves relevant historical documentation in all media, conducts and fosters research in history and archival methods, offers graduate fellowships, and sponsors symposia, conferences, and publications.
The CBI History web page says the following: “There are hundreds of Web sites on numerous aspects of the history of computing, far too many to link to here. This page will feature a periodically changing sampling of sites, arranged in no particular order. We selected these sites for the following reasons:
they provide reliable information
they are frequently updated
they function as gateways to other history of computing sites
they cover a range of areas in the history of computing.”

Virginia Tech History of Computing Web Site
This collection of materials relating to the history of computing is provided courtesy of the Department of Computer Science at Virginia Tech and is sponsored in part by a grant from the National Science Foundation (CDA-9312611) – a rich and rewarding resource!

“Triumph of the Nerds”
This is a web site associated with the PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) TV series on the history of computing entitled “The Triumph of the Nerds.”

Elsop History of Computing Links
This is the Electronic Software Publishing Corporation’s (Elsop) links page for the History of Computing.

Elsop History of Computer Companies Links
This is the Electronic Software Publishing Corporation’s (Elsop) links page for the History of Computer Companies.


Hobbes’ Internet Timeline
[Copyright © 1993–2003 by Robert H. Zakon]
This is a rich and useful timeline on the history of the Internet, with many links to other related materials.

Nerds 2.0.1 – A Brief History of the Internet
This is a web site associated with the PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) TV series on the history of the Internet entitled “Nerds 2.0.1 – A Brief History of the Internet.”

A Brief History of the Internet
In this history, which appears on the web site of the Internet Society, several of the people involved in the development and evolution of the Internet share their views of its origins and history.

[Very, Very] Brief History of the Internet and Related Networks
This is a sketch of Internet history by Vint Cerf. It also appears on the web site of the Internet Society.


A Very Short History of Computer Ethics (coming soon)
This is an article by Terrell Ward Bynum on the web site of the Research Center on Computing & Society. Originally published in the Newsletter on Philosophy and Computing of the American Philosophical Association.

Computer Ethics: Basic Concepts and Historical Overview
This is an article by Terrell Ward Bynum in Stanford University’s online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (which changes and grows over time). It provides a general introduction to computer ethics, as well as some of the history of computer ethics. [In summer 2003, there is some overlap with materials in Bynum and Rogerson’s textbook Computer Ethics and Professional Responsibility. As the encyclopedia article changes and grows, this overlap will diminish.]


In the history of computing, new ideas or concepts often were developed or “discovered” before anyone had created a physical object or a physical process that actually made use of the new ideas. For example, Napier discovered logarithms, and Oughtred used them to invent the slide rule. Write a paper in which you clearly and carefully explain three to five such ideas, plus the circumstances in which they first became known, and finally the circumstances in which they first were successfully incorporated into a physical object or process.
Select five important developments in the history of logic and reasoning – for example, Boolean logic (Boole, 1847 ) or logical quantification theory (Frege, 1879) then describe at least one way in which these developments eventually were incorporated into computers and computing.

Economics of Computing

The study of computing is incomplete without some consideration of the economic factors that influence the associated investment, research and development, access, distribution and social impact. In this section some useful links are provided which cover four key areas:

  • Monopolies and their economic implications
  • Effect of skilled labor supply and demand on the quality of computing products
  • Pricing strategies in the computing domain
  • Differences in access to computing resources and the possible effects thereof

The links on this page will open in a new browser window. Links marked with “PDF” are files made via Portable Document Format. You may need to download the latest version of Adobe Reader in order to read these files.


Economics of Information Technology
This is an overview of economic phenomena that are important for high-technology industries. Topics covered include personalization of products and prices, versioning, bundling, switching costs, lock-in, economies of scale, network effects, standards, and systems effects.

Computers, Obsolescence, and Productivity (PDF)
This paper, published in February 2000, shows that increased productivity in the computer-producing sector and the effect of investment in computers on the productivity of those who use them together account for the acceleration in U.S. labor productivity.
This US-based computer electronic newspaper is a good source for current news commentary.
This UK-based computer electronic newspaper is a good source for current news commentary.

Center for Research in Electronic Commerce, University of Texas
This research center describes as: “CREC, at the heart of the Silicon Hills of Austin, is today’s leading research center in electronic commerce, digital economy and information technology, in close collaboration with industry and business leaders.” This site contains a range of reports and other resources.


Articles About Microsoft
This page from the Open Directory Project provides a broad range of concerns about the actions of Microsoft.

Government and Monopolies: A Libertarian View
This article takes a radical libertarian stance about Microsoft and government, and – more generally – about monopolies. The authors explain how the original “evil” behind Microsoft’s monopoly is government intervention in the form of intellectual property privileges, and how any solution should begin by ending these privileges.


Information Technology Landscape in Nations
This site is a database of knowledge about information and communication technologies in various nations.


Pricing Strategies for Digital Information Goods and Online Service on the Internet
This paper discusses a pricing model for both suppliers and customers of firms that offer digital products over the Internet.

High Technology Industries and Market Structure
This is a 2001 review of various economic phenomenon that are important in high-technology industries, such as personalization of products and pricing, versioning, bundling, switching costs, lock-in, economics of scale, network effects, complements and computer-mediated contracts.


New Connections, Old Exclusions: Ethnic Minorities in Ireland’s Information Society (Text)
This paper, from the 2003 EMTEL conference, argues that a new information economy and network society has emerged in Ireland and that access to ICT is critical for the inclusion of the country’s marginalized immigrant and ethnic minority groups in this new society.

Bridging Cultural and Digital Divides: Signifying Everyday Life, Cultural Diversity and Participation in the On-line Community Video Nation (PDF)
This paper, from the 2003 EMTEL conference, considers the digital divide from a broad scope, focusing on the abilities of ICT to stimulate access, interaction and participation.

Study Questions

Basic Study Questions for Editors’ Introductions

Introduction – This part of the Computer Ethics & Professional Responsibility web site contains Basic Study Questions for the various Editors’ Introductions in the book. All sixteen chapters of the book have such questions, but the Editors’ Introductions do not.

Editors’ Introduction: Ethics in the Information Age (pages 1–13)

  1. Why do the editors say that the information revolution is “fundamentally social and ethical,” rather than merely technological?
  2. Why, according to James Moor, is ICT such a powerful force for social change?
  3. What is Computing Curricula 2001 and what are the major professional organizations that developed it?
  4. What are a few of the major questions regarding the impacts of ICT on human relationships?
  5. What are some of the aspects of ICT that make such technology a threat to privacy?
  6. Explain why privacy and anonymity on the Internet can be “double edged swords” with both good and bad consequences. Give a few examples of good and bad consequences.
  7. What are some of the important intellectual property issues being generated by ICT?
  8. Briefly describe a few of the work-related social and ethical issues being generated or exacerbated by ICT.
  9. Describe some of the “social justice” issues generated or worsened by ICT.
  10. What is “assistive technology” and what social/ethical questions does such technology raise?
  11. What are some of the “hopes and worries” about government and democracy that ICT is generating?
  12. The Editors’ Introduction (on pages 6 and 7) describes “a primary goal of computer ethics.” Briefly discuss that goal.
  13. Who was the founder of computer ethics as an academic discipline, and what project was he working on when he created the field?
  14. Who was “the second founder of computer ethics,” and what issues got him interested in this field?
  15. What shocking experience led Joseph Weizenbaum to write his now-classic computer ethics book Computer Power and Human Reason (1976)?
  16. In the mid to late 1970s, who made the name “computer ethics” and the field of computer ethics widely known across America? How did he accomplish this important ground-breaking achievement?

Editors’ Introduction to Part I (pages 17–20)

  1. Why did computer ethics thinkers in the 1970s and 1980s have to reinvent the subject?
  2. Whose use of the term “computer ethics” made it a standard name for the field that this textbook is about?
  3. What was his way of defining this field?
  4. What was Johnson’s definition of “computer ethics” in her 1985 textbook? How did her definition differ from Maner’s 1978 definition?
  5. What ethical theories did Maner (in the 1970s) and Johnson (in the 1980s) recommend as appropriate tools for doing computer ethics? [See pages 71-73 in this textbook.]
  6. How did Moor define the field of computer ethics in 1985 in his influential article “What Is Computer Ethics”? [Hint: Relate his definition to “policy vacuums” and “conceptual muddles.”]
  7. According to Moor, what is it about computing technology that makes it so powerful and, therefore, revolutionary?
  8. What, according to Moor, are the two stages of the computer revolution?
  9. What was Bynum’s 1989 definition of computer ethics, and why, according to Bynum, is computer ethics such an important field of study?
  10. In the early 1990s, Gotterbarn developed a different conception of the field of computer ethics. What was it?

Editors’ Introduction to Part II (pages 91–97)

  1. Why, according to the editors of this textbook, do computer practitioners “have an enormous responsibility to society”?
  2. Briefly describe four criteria that generally identify someone as a “professional.”
  3. In what ways do typical computer practitioners fail to fulfill the criteria mentioned in question 2 above?
  4. How is one’s role in a community or group related to responsibilities that one has within the community or group? Give three examples.
  5. What special responsibilities are associated with the employer-employee relationship?
  6. What special responsibilities are associated with the professional-to-professional relationship?
  7. Loyalty is sometimes thought to be a virtuous quality of an employee or professional colleague; but loyalty is a “two-edged sword” that can lead to unethical behavior. Explain and illustrate with an example.
  8. What is the “agency” model of the professional-to-client relationship?
  9. Why is the “agency” model a poor basis for a professional-to-client relationship?
  10. What is the “paternalistic” model of the professional-to-client relationship?
  11. Why is the “paternalistic” model a poor basis for a professional-to-client relationship?
  12. What is the “fiduciary” model of the professional-to-client relationship? What is the role of trust in this relationship?
  13. What special responsibilities does a computer professional have with regard to users of the product or service that the professional provides? Give three examples.
  14. Why is the professional-to-society relationship so important with regard to computer professionals and today’s society?
  15. Explain how the professional-to-society relationship can be viewed as a contractual relationship. What are the contractual responsibilities of each participant in the contract?

Editors’ Introduction to Part III (pages 135–141)

  1. What is the “inspiration” function of codes of professional ethics?
  2. What is the “education” function of codes of professional ethics?
  3. What is the “guidance” function of codes of professional ethics?
  4. What is the “accountability” function of codes of professional ethics?
  5. What is the “enforcement” function of codes of professional ethics?
  6. Explain why it would be a mistake to consider codes of professional ethics to be laws.
  7. Why would it be a mistake to treat a code of professional ethics as if it were a complete ethical algorithm?
  8. Why would it be inappropriate to consider a code of professional ethics to be an exhaustive ethical check list?
  9. The phrase “code of ethics” is used very broadly in this textbook. Explain what this means.
  10. Describe three different ways to organize the ideas in a code of ethics.
  11. Name five of the “fundamental values and social ideals” that typically are expressed in codes of professional ethics.
  12. Describe five “rules to govern specific professional activities” that typically are found in codes of professional ethics.
  13. State three examples of “principles and imperatives that address responsibilities that come with leadership roles.”
  14. Even though codes of professional ethics are not laws, they nevertheless have some enforcement power. Explain why.

Editors’ Introduction to Computer Security (pages 206–207)

  1. What are the five components of “logical security” for computing systems and networks?
  2. Briefly define the term “computer virus.”
  3. Briefly define the term “computer worm.”
  4. Briefly define the term “computer Trojan horse.”
  5. Briefly define the term “computer logic bomb.”
  6. Briefly define the term “computer bacterium” or “computer rabbit.”
  7. Why must computer security include concern about trusted personnel within a company or organization?
  8. Why can computer security be called “a double-edged sword”?
  9. The term “hacker” has two very different meanings. The “old-fashioned” positive meaning refers to a person who is a “computer whiz” – someone who can push computer technology to its outer limits to achieve very good or very helpful results. What is the negative meaning – and these days the most common meaning – of “hacker” (Hint: also called a “cracker.”)
  10. Why is every successful “break in” to a computer system – even one that changes nothing within the system – harmful? (Hint: Does checking for harm cost anything?)

Editors’ Introduction to Privacy and Computing (pages 246–248)

  1. What are the three meanings of the term “privacy” that arose during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries?
  2. Which of these meanings has become the primary one in the twenty-first century?
  3. What is digitization, and how did it increase risks to privacy.
  4. What are the roles of “massive databases and high-speed retrieval” in increasing risks to privacy?
  5. What is the role of computer networks in increasing the risks to privacy?
  6. What is “data-matching” and how can it increase risks to privacy?
  7. What is “data-mining” and how does it increase risks to privacy?
  8. Long before computers were invented, gathering of information about individuals, storing it, and retrieving were common. How did the invention of computers and the rapid development of information and communication technology transform these activities into serious risks to privacy? (Hint: scale)
  9. Name six to eight examples of types of personal data that need protection from privacy invasions.
  10. What major sector of the American society remained largely unaffected by privacy-protection laws passed in the early 1970s?
  11. Europe has a very different approach to privacy protection compared to the USA. What is a key phrase that suggests the European approach?

Editors’ Introduction to Computing and Intellectual Property (pages 278–284)

  1. According to the editors of this book, how did information technology bring about a crisis for intellectual property?
  2. What is “greased” property? Why is it called “greased” ?
  3. What is Napster, and what is the primary ethical issue that Napster generated?
    What is ownership?
  4. Give two or more examples to illustrate that ownership is not absolute and can justly be limited by law and by ethics.
  5. Explain the “labor theory of ownership.”
  6. Explain the “personality theory of ownership.”
  7. Explain the “utilitarian theory of ownership.”
  8. Explain the “social contract theory of ownership.”
  9. What are the basic features of copyrights? How long do copyrights last?
  10. In what sense is a copyright a weak form of ownership?
  11. What are the basic features of patents? How long do patents last?
  12. In what sense is a patent a strong form of ownership?
  13. What are the basic features of trade secrets?
  14. Why is trade secrecy typically a poor kind of ownership for software?

Editors’ Introduction to Global Information Ethics (pages 316–318)

  1. What is Moor’s influential definition of the field of computer ethics?
  2. According to Krystyna Górniak, the Internet has made possible an activity that could never have occurred before. What is this activity and why is it important?
  3. There are many thousands of laws around the globe – national laws, state laws, local laws. Each law has a specific jurisdiction where it applies. How has the Internet generated juristictional “policy vacuums” that are relevant to the field of computer ethics? Explain in general, then give a specific example.
  4. How does the Internet raise questions about offending someone? Give an example.
  5. How does “cyberbusiness” on the Internet raise questions about whose laws to enforce? Give an example.
  6. What is “new colonialism” and how might the Internet contribute to its existence and success?
  7. What is “cyber medicine” and what are some of the social and ethical questions that cyber medicine generates?
  8. What are some of the policy vacuums and global questions generated by education activities in cyberspace?
  9. What are some of the democracy and human rights questions raised by “cyber education” (in the broadest sense of this term)?

Additional Cases

Listed below are additional cases to analyze. These cases differ from those found in Computer Ethics & Professional Responsibility. Our readers are invited to analyze the cases using the various methods described and illustrated in the textbook in Part I. Clicking on the title of a case will take you to the relevant case description. This collection of additional cases will grow over time.
Please note that some individual cases could include issues from several different areas of Computer Ethics, such as computer security, professional responsibility, privacy, ownership of intellectual property, global conflicts, and so on.

The House of McAdam
GARAGE Online Auction
Nancy’s Dilemma


© 2003 by Simon Rogerson
Margaret and Julian McAdam were planning to move to a new house, and they made an offer on an ideal four-bedroom detached house. The sellers accepted the offer, and everything was apparently progressing smoothly.
The McAdams had applied for a joint mortgage through Red Rose Bank. To obtain a credit reference for both Margaret and Julian, Alice Cooper, who was dealing with their application, contacted Creditworthy, one of three credit-rating companies that Red Rose Bank uses. Several days later Alice telephoned the McAdams to explain that the credit report from Creditworthy indicated that Julian had defaulted several years ago on a previous mortgage with the Tartan Line Bank. For this reason, Red Rose Bank was unable to offer a mortgage to the McAdams. Julian was most annoyed and told Alice that he had never had any dealings with the Tartan Line Bank, so there had to be a mistake.
Alice explained that if the McAdams wanted a Red Rose mortgage to purchase the house in question, then they had to get the problem sorted out very quickly, since another buyer had made an offer on the house and the seller would only wait a couple of days before selling to the other buyer. Alice gave the McAdams the telephone number of Mary Miller, who was her contact person at Creditworthy. Julian contacted Mary who immediately investigated the problem. She discovered that there were two Julian McAdams in the database and both had the same date of birth. The other one lived in a different town, and he was the one who had defaulted on a mortgage. Mary promptly corrected the credit profile of Margaret’s husband, Julian, and sent a new revised credit rating to Red Rose Bank. However, this was not in time to prevent the McAdams from losing the house to the other buyers.
The McAdams were very disappointed about losing the house, but they were even more concerned that Red Rose Bank might always associate them with the default at Tartan Line Bank and that the other credit rating companies could also distribute this erroneous information.
Mary discussed the incident with Pam Chad, the head of the information systems department at Creditworthy. There had been an increasing number of complaints about incorrect credit reports, and this latest incident prompted Pam to speak to Henry Webster, the vice president, about modifying the database and associated systems. Her suggestions for modification centered around having unique alphanumeric identifiers for each person in the database, which would eliminate any mistaken identity. Although the cost-benefit analysis of the update did not show a clear financial gain, Pam believed that the improvement in accuracy would warrant undertaking the work and would prevent future unhappy incidents like the one that affected the McAdams. Henry Webster, however, considered the errors in the database to be too small to matter and, given the projected cost, decided not to authorize the work.


© 2003 by Simon Rogerson
Auction sales on the Internet were growing rapidly and were forecast to represent nearly 25% of online retail sales within a couple of years. This promising prospect led Wendy Jones to establish a new auction web site, which she called GARAGE, that was aimed at attracting young people 16 to 25 years old. Wendy believed that this age group had the greatest potential sales growth. She carefully analysed the functions and style of existing auction web sites so that she could offer an alternative. She concluded that the site must have an anarchic anti-establishment feel so that it would attract a lot of young people.
The business model for GARAGE was based on several key points:
GARAGE would receive a fee from people who wanted to list and sell items for auction. It would charge a percentage of the final sales price for completed auctions.
GARAGE would merely be a publisher, much like a newspaper that publishes classified advertisements, with no responsibility for transactions since it would simply provide the conduit through which auction transactions could occur.
GARAGE would not veto items posted for auction, but it would be marketed to ensure that posted items were of interest to the targeted age range. It was likely that some items would be controversial in the opinion of other age groups, and this was part of the marketing strategy.
GARAGE users would be tracked, since this would be essential for growing the business. HTML e-mail would be sent to all those accessing the site. HTML email would act like a Web page, requesting graphics and content from a Web server and counting as a “hit” on the GARAGE web site. GARAGE would be able to track how and when people responded to e-mail, note where they click, and trace follow-up actions on GARAGE pages.
GARAGE would set up an advice service, called GI, on the products being auctioned. This would enable potential purchasers to find out more about the products offered. Those wishing to provide “expert advice” would register with GI giving contact details and a brief description of their credentials. Information providers would pay a fee for GI registration. In return a GI expert would receive a commission for each access of information they had posted. The fee for completed sales would cover this commission.
Five weeks ago GARAGE was launched. It was an immediate success. The design of the site and the use of street language attracted many young people. By the end of four weeks 7000 products had been sold. A typical virtual auction attracted 1000 people. There were now 250 registered experts on GI. The products offered for auction included clothes, music, books, various equipment and appliances, adult items and recreational drugs. Controversy was growing about GARAGE, but it was this which seemed to be boosting the numbers of people using the site.
Last Friday it was reported in the German national press that a 19 year old man had killed a 25 year old woman. The man was inquisitive about martial arts and had come across a GARAGE auction of nunchaku sticks and throwing stars. Both were martial arts weapons. Using GI the man had found out how these weapons could be used and their relevance to martial-art culture. According to the posted credentials, the GI expert who had posted the information had been a martial arts instructor for over ten years. The man purchased four throwing stars from the GARAGE auctioneer, who was based in the USA. Eager to try out his new acquisition, he went into his back yard to practice throwing the stars using the information he had gotten from GI. The stars need careful handling because they can be thrown long distances with relative ease. This was not indicated in the GI information. The man threw one of the stars very hard. It missed the target, veered to the right and hit the main artery in the neck of a woman who was walking down a public pathway some 50 metres away. The woman collapsed and tragically died in hospital through loss of blood.
On hearing the news, Wendy was sorry that the tragic accident had occurred; but she did not see how it could be blamed on GARAGE. She argued that these minor negative effects were symptomatic of the business model on which GARAGE was built. This feeling of being in a slightly risky lawless environment in which you could purchase otherwise unavailable products was what was attracting such great numbers of young people to GARAGE. Indeed she felt vindicated that her strategy was working.


© 2003 by Simon Rogerson
Quality Technology Solutions (QTS) was a major well-respected computer hardware and software vendor. Nancy Johnson worked as a user-support software engineer at the QTS regional center in the middle of the country. She communicated with her customers mainly by telephone and email. Reported program bugs were passed on to technical support agents, and Nancy provided software patches to her customers over telephone lines, usually via a computer-to-computer connection.
In addition, whenever Nancy heard about difficult software problems, she visited the customer personally. Until last year, her on-site support and occasional training were provided as part of the customers’ maintenance contracts. As a result of Nancy’s expertise, this service became very popular and thus very costly for QTS , so the on-site support service was split from maintenance and billed separately.
During a recent economic recession, QTS’s fortunes declined. As a result, salaries were frozen for 18 months. After that, times continued to be difficult, and people were losing their jobs. Nancy believed that it was only a matter of time before she became a casualty. She knew, however, that she was still valuable to QTS, and her boss had said that she would be the first to get a pay raise when it became possible.
One of QTS’s largest customers, and one of Nancy’s most important clients, was District Benefit (DB) with offices throughout the country. Over a period of time she had established a close relationship with many key employees at DB offices, and there were several offices where employees needed a lot of technical help and training. DB preferred to enter into a contract with QTS, rather than develop its own in-house expertise. Nancy had been working closely with Mike Williams in the Information Services Department of DB, and they know each other well and had high professional respect for each other.
Last week, Mike telephoned Nancy at home.
“Nancy, I have a proposition you might be interested in.”
“What is it?”
“The main office needs someone to help them with their new system. It’s the new BENEFIT-p system that QTS installed six months ago and they desperately need support and training. It is the sort of thing you’re expert at. Do you want to take it on?”
“It sounds interesting. Just send some details to the office and I’ll put the wheels in motion.”
“Let me explain. We don’t want QTS to handle the job; we want you to do it personally. If we go to QTS, it will take ages to set it up, and what’s more we will have to pay QTS’s overhead.”
“I’m not sure, Mike. You’re offering to pay me for the type of work which QTS pays me for and that feels like a conflict of interest.”
“I don’t think so, and we want you to do the job, not some other consultant who might be allocated by QTS. DB is important to QTS, particularly the work at the main office. I’m sure if we explained the situation to your management they would agree to go along with the arrangement.”
“Why don’t we then? What’s the rush? Put a proposal to them and maybe they can sort something out in a couple of weeks.”
“Nancy, you don’t understand. We can’t wait that long! BENEFIT-p was installed to rectify serious problems that we were having in managing the complex benefits package. We simply have to have it working in the very near future. We won’t ask you for any time that would interfere with your normal work schedule at QTS. We’ll fit in with your schedule because we know you’ll do a great job. To make it worth your while, we’ll pay you 25% above the normal rate and give you a 30% bonus on completion of the job. Please come and work for us on this one job.”
Nancy said nothing. She was pleased that her reputation was so good, and she was overwhelmed by the size of the financial offer. It would certainly provide some extra funds if she were to be let go by QTS. But she wondered about the consequences if QTS were to find out, and she was undecided about what to do.

Additional Online Readings

Professor Simon Rogerson’s “ETHIcol” Columns:

Six times each year, Professor Rogerson publishes a Computer Ethics column in the IMIS Journal published by the Institute for the Management of Information Systems (IMIS). Click here to access an archive of all of his columns.

The new ETHICOMP Electronic Journal has many useful additional readings. Click here for the Electronic Journal.

One of the most theoretical computer ethics scholars is Professor Luciano Floridi of Oxford University in England. You will find several of his scholarly computer ethics papers by clicking here.

Web Resources

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Part I:

Bynum, T. W. “Computer Ethics: Basic Concepts and Historical Overview”

Research Center on Computing & Society, Southern Connecticut State University, USA

Tavani, H. T. “Computing, Ethics and Social Responsibility: A Bibliography”

Part II:

The Association for Computing Machinery

The Australian Computer Society

The British Computer Society

Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility

Professionalism Section of the Website of the Centre for Computing and Social Responsibility

Part III:

ACM Position Papers on Software Engineering and Licensing

Codes of Ethics links on the web site of the Centre for Computing and Social Responsibility

Commentary on “The Ten Commandments of Computer Ethics” by N. Ben Fairweather

The Software Engineering Ethics Research Institute at East Tennessee State University at Johnson City, TN, USA

Part IV:


Center for Education and Research in Information Assurance and Security (CERIAS) at Purdue University, Eugene H. Spafford, Director

Computer Security Group, Cambridge University, UK

Computer Security Institute

The Risks Digest: Forum On Risks To The Public In Computers And Related Systems, ACM Committee on Computers and Public Policy, Peter G. Neumann, Moderator


The Electronic Privacy Information Center

The Information Commissioner of the United Kingdom

The Office of the Federal Privacy Commissioner, Australia


Softward Ownership and Intellectual Property Rights: A Monograph (See especially the article “A Plea for Casual Copying” by Helen Nissenbaum)

Volkman, R. “Softward Ownership and Natural Rights”

World Intellectual Property Organization


“The Global Culture of Digital Technology and Its Ethics,” an abstract of a paper by Krystyna Gorniak-Kocikowska

The Internet Society – an international organization for global cooperation