Ethical Issues in the Use of One-to-One Information Distribution: Observations from an Enabler’s Point of View

Bill McDaniel and Pat McGrew


Information Technology encompassing all forms of information distribution including high-speed laser printers, database marketing techniques, and web-based push technology makes it possible for international business enterprises to target information to both employees and customers as never before imagined. The ability to make an advertisement, an endorsement, a newspaper article, or even internal corporate reports speak directly to the consumer carries significant ethical responsibility, most often ignored by those responsible for their creation. Further, as these technologies are deployed, there is a high potential for an alteration of the business process in a corporation, and thus an alteration in the requirements of the workforce and their physical working conditions.

The authors own a consulting service and a software development house which provides enabling technology for these purposes. They have spent several years considering the implication, value, and potential abuse of the technology they help to provide to the business world. This paper will present two tracks of observations: External issues of one-to-one marketing and internal issues of the business process.

The first discussion reviews the benefits and drawbacks observed as the authors aided the deployment of one-to-one information technology. Examples of ethically-charged situations range from financial information that tailors itself to an individual investor to advertising campaigns that invade privacy and cause psychological trauma. The issues surrounding targeted periodicals such as newspapers and magazines which are composed of only those articles and ads which conform to a reader’s demographic profile-of-one are discussed.

The second discussion reviews the issues confronted by management on the deployment of such technology in the workplace. Such issues include the costs of physical plant improvements to accommodate workers performing most of their work on computers instead of on paper, costs of providing training in new technologies to workers and managers nearing the end of their careers; and the issues of the change in the environment of the workplace as companies re-organize and change the business process to accommodate the new technologies they invest in.

Finally, a conclusion is drawn regarding the appropriate use of such technology and a call for Information Professionals to adopt a specific code of conduct is made.