E-Commerce and E-ethics – a pragmatic evaluation


Duncan Langford
Computing Laboratory
The University


The use of the Internet for electronic commercial transactions – ecommerce – is both widespread and growing rapidly.

However, many companies who have developed Web-based sales are likely to have developed or commissioned their commercial sites from the twin perspectives of appearance and function, with no particular consideration of broader non-technical issues. A lack of wider considerations can lead to potentially major problems, for company, developer and user.

The area of electronically based commercial transaction raises many questions concerning the social, rather than technical, use of company computer systems. I contend that active and ongoing consideration and discussion of such issues is not only appropriate, but essential for responsible and effective business use.

While large organisations, with greater resources, have often appeared to give thought to the wider issues of corporate ethical behaviour that are involved in electronic trading, even such companies as Amazon have been criticised for actions perceived as inappropriate. However, even if ethical trading policies exist, rapidly evolving issues and driving commercial forces may mean sections are overdue for revision, while in smaller businesses consideration of ethical issues in connection with the use of computer for ecommerce might well have been overlooked entirely. Nevertheless, it must be accepted that the increasing dependence of modern business and commerce upon computers must inevitably increase the associated risk of computer-related difficulties.

This paper briefly examines the background to the application of business computer systems to the practice of ecommerce. It addresses the need for both clear definition and regular and appropriate evaluation of what is considered appropriate conduct, and discusses the relevance of the ethical audit concept as applied to commercial computer systems. It them moves on to describe how such a practice might be associated with electronically based commercial activities before concluding with an evaluation of the association of ethical behaviour and commercial activities in networked business computing.