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Computer ethics is a part of practical philosophy concerned with how computing professionals should make decisions regarding professional and social conduct.[1] Margaret Anne Pierce, a professor in the Department of Mathematics and Computers at Georgia Southern University has categorized the ethical decisions related to computer technology and usage into three primary influences:

  1. The individual's own personal code.
  2. Any informal code of ethical conduct that exists in the work place.
  3. Exposure to formal codes of ethics.[2]



The term computer ethics was first coined by Walter Maner,[1] a professor at Bowling Green State University. The conceptual foundations of computer ethics are investigated by information ethics, a branch of philosophical ethics promoted, among others, by Luciano Floridi.[3]


The concept of computer ethics originated in the 1940s with MIT professor Norbert Wiener, the American mathematician and philosopher. While working on anti-aircraft artillery during World War II, Wiener and his fellow engineers developed a system of communication between the part of a cannon that tracked a warplane, the part that performed calculations to estimate a trajectory, and the part responsible for firing.[1] Wiener termed the science of such information feedback systems "cybernetics," and he discussed this new field with its related ethical concerns in his 1948 book, Cybernetics.[1][4] In 1950, Wiener's second book, The Human Use of Human Beings, delved deeper into the ethical issues surrounding information technology and laid out the basic foundations of computer ethics.[4]

A bit later during the same year the world's first computer crime was committed. A programmer was able to use a bit of computer code to stop his banking account from being flagged as overdrawn. However, there were no laws in place at that time to stop him, and as a result he was not charged.[5][unreliable source?] To make sure another person did not follow suit, an ethics code for computers was needed.

In 1973, the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) adopted its first code of ethics.[1] SRI International's Donn Parker,[6] an author on computer crimes, led the committee that developed the code.[1]

In 1976, medical teacher and researcher Walter Maner noticed that ethical decisions are much harder to make when computers are added. He noticed a need for a different branch of ethics for when it came to dealing with computers. The term "computer ethics" was thus invented.[1][4]

In 1976 Joseph Weizenbaum made his second significant addition to the field of computer ethics. He published a book titled Computer Power and Human Reason,[7] which talked about how artificial intelligence is good for the world; however it should never be allowed to make the most important decisions as it does not have human qualities such as wisdom. By far the most important point he makes in the book is the distinction between choosing and deciding. He argued that deciding is a computational activity while making choices is not and thus the ability to make choices is what makes us humans.

At a later time during the same year Abbe Mowshowitz, a professor of Computer Science at the City College of New York, published an article titled "On approaches to the study of social issues in computing." This article identified and analyzed technical and non-technical biases in research on social issues present in computing.

During 1978, the Right to Financial Privacy Act was adopted by the United States Congress, drastically limiting the government's ability to search bank records.[8]

During the same year Terrell Ward Bynum, the professor of Philosophy at Southern Connecticut State University as well as Director of the Research Center on Computing and Society there, developed the first ever curriculum for a university course on computer ethics.[citation needed] Bynum was also editor of the journal Metaphilosophy.[1] In 1983 the journal held an essay contest on the topic of computer ethics and published the winning essays in its best-selling 1985 special issue, “Computers and Ethics.”[1]

In 1984, the United States Congress passed the Small Business Computer Security and Education Act, which created a Small Business Administration advisory council to focus on computer security related to small businesses.[9]

In 1985, James Moor, Professor of Philosophy at DartMouth College in New Hampshire, published an essay called "What is Computer Ethics?"[4] In this essay Moor states the computer ethics includes the following: "(1) identification of computer-generated policy vacuums, (2) clarification of conceptual muddles, (3) formulation of policies for the use of computer technology, and (4) ethical justification of such policies."[1]

During the same year, Deborah Johnson, Professor of Applied Ethics and Chair of the Department of Science, Technology, and Society in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences of the University of Virginia, got the first major computer ethics textbook published.[4] Johnson's textbook identified major issues for research in computer ethics for more than 10 years after publication of the first edition.[4]

In 1988, Robert Hauptman, a librarian at St. Cloud University, came up with "information ethics", a term that was used to describe the storage, production, access and dissemination of information.[5][unreliable source?] Near the same time, the Computer Matching and Privacy Act was adopted and this act restricted United States government programs identifying debtors.[10]

In the year 1992, ACM adopted a new set of ethical rules called "ACM code of Ethics and Professional Conduct"[11] which consisted of 24 statements of personal responsibility.

Three years later, in 1995, Krystyna Górniak-Kocikowska, a Professor of Philosophy at Southern Connecticut State University, Coordinator of the Religious Studies Program, as well as a Senior Research Associate in the Research Center on Computing and Society, came up with the idea that computer ethics will eventually become a global ethical system and soon after, computer ethics would replace ethics altogether as it would become the standard ethics of the information age.[4]

In 1999, Deborah Johnson revealed her view, which was quite contrary to Górniak-Kocikowska's belief, and stated that computer ethics will not evolve but rather be our old ethics with a slight twist.[5][unreliable source?]

Post 20th century, as a result to much debate of ethical guidelines, many organizations such as ABET[12] offer ethical accreditation to University or College applications such as "Applied and Natural Science, Computing, Engineering and Engineering Technology at the associate, bachelor, and master levels" to try and promote quality works that follow sound ethical and moral guidelines.

Internet privacyEdit

Privacy is one of the major issues that has emerged since the internet has become part of many aspects of daily life. Internet users hand over personal information in order to sign up or register for services without realizing that they are potentially setting themselves up for invasions of privacy.[13][better source needed]

Another example of privacy issues, with concern to Google, is tracking searches. There is a feature within searching that allows Google to keep track of searches so that advertisements will match your search criteria, which in turn means using people as products. Google was sued in 2018 due to tracking user location without permission.[14]

There is an ongoing discussion about what privacy and privacy enforcement measures imply. With the increase in social networking sites, more and more people are allowing their private information to be shared publicly. On the surface, this may be seen as someone listing private information about them on a social networking site, but below the surface, it is the site that could be sharing the information (not the individual). This is the idea of an opt-in versus opt-out situation. There are many privacy statements that state whether there is an opt-in or an opt-out policy. Typically an opt-in privacy policy means that the individual has to tell the company issuing the privacy policy if they want their information shared or not. Opt-out means that their information will be shared unless the individual tells the company not to share it.

A whole industry of privacy and ethical tools has grown over time, giving people the choice to not share their data online. These are often open source software, which allows the users to ensure that their data is not saved to be used without their consent.[15]

Identifying issuesEdit

Identifying ethical issues as they arise, as well as defining how to deal with them, has traditionally been problematic. In solving problems relating to ethical issues, Michael Davis proposed a unique problem-solving method. In Davis's model, the ethical problem is stated, facts are checked, and a list of options is generated by considering relevant factors relating to the problem. The actual action taken is influenced by specific ethical standards.[citation needed]

Ethical standardsEdit

Various national and international professional societies and organizations have produced code of ethics documents to give basic behavioral guidelines to computing professionals and users. They include:

Association for Computing Machinery
ACM Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct[11]
Australian Computer Society
ACS Code of Ethics[16]
ACS Code of Professional Conduct[17]
British Computer Society
BCS Code of Conduct[18]
Code of Good Practice (retired May 2011)[19]
Computer Ethics Institute
Ten Commandments of Computer Ethics
IEEE Code of Ethics[20]
IEEE Code of Conduct[21]
League of Professional System Administrators
The System Administrators' Code of Ethics[22]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Bynum, Terrell Ward. "A Very Short History of Computer Ethics". Southern Connecticut Wein University. Archived from the original on 2008-04-18. Retrieved 2011-01-05.
  2. ^ Pierce, Margaret Anne; Henry, John W. (April 1996). "Computer ethics: The role of personal, informal, and formal codes". Journal of Business Ethics. 15 (4): 425–437. doi:10.1007/BF00380363. (subscription required)
  3. ^ Floridi, Luciano (2010), "Information Ethics", in Floridi, Luciano (ed.), The Cambridge Handbook of Information and Computer Ethics, Cambridge University Press, pp. 77–100, ISBN 9780521717724
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Bynum, Terrell (21 December 2014). "Computer Ethics: Basic Concepts and Historical Overview". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Center for the Study of Language and Information, Stanford University.
  5. ^ a b c "A Brief History of Computer Ethics". Learning Computing History. 5 December 2004.
  6. ^ "Alumni Hall of Fame: Donn Parker". SRI International. Retrieved 2013-06-13.
  7. ^ "Obituary: Joseph Weizenbaum". The Tech. 128 (12) (Online ed.). Cambridge, MA: MIT News office. 14 March 2008. Retrieved 29 April 2015.
  8. ^ "The Right to Financial Privacy Act". Electronic Privacy Information Center. Retrieved 29 April 2015.
  9. ^ Small Business Computer Security and Education Act of 1984 at
  10. ^ Computer Matching and Privacy Protection Act of 1988 at
  11. ^ a b "ACM Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct". ACM. 16 October 1992. Retrieved 2014-08-09.
  12. ^ "About ABET | ABET". Retrieved 2018-10-03.
  13. ^ CSC300 Lecture Notes @ University of Toronto, 2011. For more information on this topic, please visit the Electronic Privacy Information Center website.
  14. ^ "Google sued over tracking user location amid privacy concerns".
  15. ^ "Ethical Alternatives and Resources".
  16. ^ ACS Code of Ethics (PDF), Australian Computer Society, 12 June 2012, archived from the original (PDF) on 14 May 2013
  17. ^ Graham, Ruth, ed. (July 2012), ACS Code of Professional Conduct (PDF), Australian Computer Society, archived from the original (PDF) on 6 April 2014
  18. ^ Code of Conduct for BCS Members (PDF), BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, 8 June 2011
  19. ^ "BCS Trustee Board agrees revised Code of Conduct". BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT. 3 May 2011.
  20. ^ "7.8 IEEE Code of Ethics", IEEE Policies, Section 7 - Professional Activities, IEEE
  21. ^ IEEE Code of Conduct (PDF), IEEE, June 2014
  22. ^ "The System Administrators' Code of Ethics". League of Professional System Administrators. USENIX Association. 2006.

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit