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Computer and Web Ethics, Research Paper Example

Pages: 1

Words: 1851

Research Paper

Introduction

It seems that the already complex field of ethics generally has been vastly expanded by the advent and increasingly widespread use of the Internet, particularly in regard to research and commercial information.  Debate has always been in place concerning ethical issues in obtaining, maintaining, and releasing information; when, however, virtually everyone is now able to access inestimable sources of data, and of all kinds, the ethics become far more problematic.  Compounding the issues is the speed at which the technology evolves, as new modes of access offer new challenges as to the rights to retrieve and utilize information.  This very dilemma, however, may be seen as indicating the correct course for web ethics in an inevitably changing landscape.  As opportunities for unethical access increase, the “arms race” between security and entry will continue, but an ethical foundation reliant only on basic codes of conduct may be constructed to address eventualities.  In the shifting world of Internet usage and technology, the only means of establishing a correct ethical approach is through a cautious ethical platform not subject to  variations in ability and access.

Discussion

To better convey how important a general ethical foundation is in this matter, it is necessary to examine existing supports and practices.  The chief concern here is research, which term encompasses objectives ranging from investigating a subject for academic purposes to isolating traits in a population for marketing.  This being the case, the ethical approach usually taken relies on viewing all people, as individuals and as purveyors of information, as subjects.  Any activity which treats with human subjects is today regarded as requiring an ethical foundation.  Ethics in research itself is a relatively new arena, having been created in response to the World War II atrocities in which, in the supposed interests of science, human privacy and well-being were disregarded.  From this arose the international consensus that the principle of informed consent is essential; no human being may be made to surrender anything in their possession, from information to aspects of physical being, unless they comprehend what is desired of them and willingly comply (Consalvo, Ess, 2011,  p. 84). From this foundation, the general approach to Internet ethics is constructed, and a wide variety of review boards are in place internationally to gauge existing practices and set standards.  Most of these focus on research as it pertains to surveys, studies, and the collection of data for medical or other scientific pursuits.

However, complicating the issue is that, both internationally and domestically within the U.S., Internet Review Boards (IRBs) in place to regulate and oversee research widely vary in terms of requirements and standards (McKee, Porter, 2009,  p. 34).  On an international level, it has been determined that the standards of one nation see as ethical Internet research condemned by another.  For example, the East African nation of Malawi is far more concerned with research going to the communal welfare of the society than in securing individual protections (McKee, Porter, 2009,  p. 34).  Within the U.S., researchers are frustrated by review board policies based on biomedical work, which may be inapplicable to other forms of study.  It is also increasingly felt that IRBs do not take into account the element of nuance in using the Internet for research, in which informed consent is often tacitly supplied.  The research team investigating a cultural trend, for example, may feel fully entitled to use information obtained from an Internet chat room because those within it waive privacy through the interaction.  The IRB is, meanwhile, adhering to a standard of confirmed consent not entirely – and ethically – mandated.  As these issues alone, indicate, and at least in terms of internal U.S. regulating, there is a need for an ethical stance which both comprehends the modern realities of Internet interaction and satisfies the ethical requirement of informed consent.  Put another way, this latter dilemma may be resolved by simply requiring that, no matter the public Internet forum sought for research, the researcher must nonetheless make their intentions known. This supports a basic ethical foundation because it does what ethics must do in any “gray” area: it errs on the side of caution and does not presuppose willingness.

Linked to this is the reverse scenario, in which the holder of information releases it carelessly on the Internet. Doctors and police officers in particular have been targeted as breaching ethics in this regard, and through relaying patient information, even in general terms, in social media outlets.  In recent years, officers have lost their jobs due to conveying personal points of view in social media which have placed their departments under unfavorable public scrutiny.  With doctors, the issues have been more related to comments made in media blogs and discussions perceived as inappropriate (McCartney, 2012).  Professionalism and socializing are not mixing well on the Internet, even as existing regulations for such professionals confine themselves to prohibiting illegal online activity and generally discouraging questionable behavior.  Here, again, it seems that only a pervasively wary stance may serve ethics.  If professionals feel that, as individuals, they are entitled to share beliefs possibly offensive, they must first recognize that the public trust within the natures of their calling constrains such liberty.  For ethics in this case to be correct, there must be again an emphasis on caution, rather than an agenda securing the perceived rights of the doctors and police to transmit personal views or, worse, private information regarding others.

The fields of Internet research and professional conduct aside, cloud computing presents another significant challenge to web ethics. In plain terms, the storage of data in cloud systems is an inevitability of an online world; as more personal, commercial, and governmental information requires storage and transfer, the ability of the cloud to store immense amounts of data in a separate Internet facility becomes essential.  Researchers, business people, and virtually everyone investing information in the Internet then enjoy multiple advantages, ranging from lessened cost to no longer having to address issues of upgrades and back-ups.  At the same time, there remains the inescapable fact that ethics are involved simply because information, of of a highly sensitive nature, is accessible by all (Bradley, 2013).  Encryption and protection systems are critical, but these are removed from ethics in that they reinforce but do not of themselves stand as the ethics.

With cloud computing, however, ethics are served with relative ease in terms of the individual’s rights of control to the information they store.  This level of less complication is due in part to the cloud as being a “savings”contract between the individual and the provider, not unlike traditional banking.

At the same time, IRBs must attend very carefully to a potential in this field of enormous ethical import, because the size of any cloud system translates to power as held by the system. This is abetted by the rise in increasingly smaller, mobile devices, which encourage the storing of information elsewhere, and consequently removed from the owner’s control: “The pendulum seems to be swinging away  from individual autonomy and toward more concentrated power in fewer hands” (Miller, Voas,  2010).  Here, the Internet is presenting an ethical challenge reminiscent of corporate organizations, if not identical to them.  With great power comes the potential of abuse, certainly in the forms of exerting authority to undue levels and potentially altering price structures unfairly.  For computing ethics here to be maintained. IRBs must function as governmental regulatory agencies, not unlike those in place governing the ethics of financial transaction.  This is not about nuance, but about establishing strict parameters and overseeing the operations of cloud companies, to watch for abuses generated by growth in size.

Lastly, there is the matter of academic research, and specifically that conducted at the college and university level.  As recent history has made all too evident, students internationally are availing themselves of the opportunity to gather and present information obtained from the web as their own.  With regard to this plagiarizing material or information, an entire new range of ethical dilemmas arises.  To begin with, and ironically, the exponential rise of Internet technology has simultaneously increased opportunities to unethically retrieve information and provided more accurate means of detecting plagiarism. Unfortunately, the sheer volume of web information is such that a true determining of this occurring becomes more difficult; when more variations of the same information are accessible, there are more possibilities of mere phrasing as distinguishing them, and it becomes more possible than an original thought accidentally “plagiarizes”  (Oliver, 2010,  p. 157).  There is also the very pertinent issue of intent.  There is by no means any reason to believe that all students who plagiarize intend to do so; rather, it is entirely possible that the wealth of information on the Internet, long known to young students who have grown up with the service, is felt by them to be a common source of knowledge correctly accessible by all.  It must be restated as well that, given the expanse of information, plagiarism may well be accidental, as a student cannot be held accountable for the same idea being expressed in similar language, and unknown to them. For ethics to be served here, schools are obligated to more directly confront all of these factors and instruct the students as to what is and what is not permissible.  Plagiarism detection is helpful, but it is not a catch-all solution, and the addressing of the ethics in a consistently proactive fashion must educate the students as to the reasons for the set parameters, which in turn will dissuade intentional plagiarism.

Conclusion

The scope of ethics alone is immeasurable, and it is interesting that the web today presents ethical challenges matching or exceeding those in place before its advent.  These are complex issues and no blanket solution may possible address the many and distinct ethical issues arising in a world where virtually everyone is conducting research online, providing information, conveying privileged data, or merely transmitting information from online venue to online venue.  Some mechanisms are essential, as in plagiarism detection systems and IRBs.  More important, however, is that all computing issues of this kind be dealt with from a platform of uniform ethics that may then be adapted to individual cases.  The critical component in all is that all web practices, from cloud storage to research, be conducted on the understanding that, when there is doubt, caution is the more correct response.   In the evolving world of Internet usage and technology, the only way of establishing a correct ethical approach is by operating from a cautious ethical foundation not subject to  variations in ability and access.

References

Bradley, S. (2013).  “To Internet or Not to Internet: Ethics Opinions on Internet Usage.” University of Georgia School of Law.  Retrieved from http://digitalcommons.law.uga.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1024

Consalvo, M., & Ess, C.  (2011).  The Handbook of Internet Studies.  Hoboken: John Wiley &   Sons.

McCartney, M. (2012).  “How Much of a Social Media Profile Can Doctors Have?” British       Medical Journal (BMJ), 344.  Retrieved from http://www.bmj.com/content/344/bmj.e440?variant=full-text&ijkey=CTGUHLkfhODKQyv&keytype=ref

McKee, H. A., & Porter, J. E. (2009).  The Ethics of Internet Research: A Rhetorical, Case-based          Process.  New York: Peter Lang.

Miller, K. W., & Voas, J. (2010).  “Ethics and the Cloud.”  IT Professional, 12(5), 4-5.  Retrieved          from http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/xpls/abs_all.jsp?arnumber=5593031

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