Computer Ethics

Prentice Hall
Deborah G. Johnson / Deborah G. Johnson  
Total pages
December 2008
Related Titles

Product detail

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Computer Ethics
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For one-semester courses in Computer Ethics, Applied Ethics, Computers, Ethics and Society, Ethics and Information Systems, Computers and Society, or Social Effects of Technology.


Written in clear, accessible prose, the Fourth edition of Computer Ethics brings together philosophy, law, and technology. The text provides an in-depth exploration and analysis of a broad range of topics regarding the ethical implications of widespread use of computer technology. The approach is normative while also exposing the student to alternative ethical stances.


  • Current discussions on technological changes and the ethical questions they create.
  • Revised  and restructured chapters:
    • Combined and expanded information from prior edition to work within new structure based upon developments in Science and Technology Studies (STS).
  • Social implications and social values are addressed:
    • Focuses students' attention on the relationship between technology and social change, as well as values and technology.
  • Analysis of overarching global issues and systems of trust.
    • Introduces students to the digital divide and freedom of expression issues.
  • Provides students grounding in topic of philosophical ethics while addressing science and technology.
  • Updated scenarios that open each chapter.
    • Involves students in the topic quickly and solidifies subject matter.
  • Study questions.
    • Helps students identify and absorb important ideas and points.
  • Suggested further reading.
    • Provides students with resources for additional research.

New to this Edition

REVISED – All chapters now feature updated scenarios used to help introduce students to the chapter content:

                 >Material will now reflect current technologies and the issues they raise:

                        - Workplace monitoring now involves monitoring web browsing

                        - Property rights in virtual entities

                        - Blogs, Facebook, phishing, and more

                  >New scenarios will steer the text in a direction that makes it current and relevant to students.


NEW – The Fourth Edition has been restructured around a framework better suited for bridging the connection

between ethics, values, and computers:

                    >Based on the evolution of the field of Science and Technology Studies (STS)

                    >Ethical issues will now be presented as embedded in social practices, and social practices will be equally

                      showcased as socio-technical endeavors.


Table of Contents


Preface  vi

Acknowledgments  viii

About the Authors  viii


Chapter 1  Introduction to Sociotechnical Computer Ethics

Chapter Outline  1

Scenarios  2

1.1 A Virtual Rape  2 • 1.2 Surprises About Social Networking  3 • 1.3 RFID and Caring for the Elderly  4

Introduction: Why Computer Ethics?  5

The Standard Account  7

New Possibilities, a Vacuum of Policies, Conceptual Muddles  7 • An Update to the Standard Account  10

The Sociotechnical Systems Perspective  13

Reject Technological Determinism/Think Coshaping  13 • Reject Technology as Material Objects/Think Sociotechnical Systems  15 • Reject Technology as Neutral/Think Technology Infused with Value  17

Sociotechnical Computer Ethics  18

Micro- and Macro-Level Analysis  21

Return to the “Why Computer Ethics?” Question  21

Conclusion  22 Study Questions  23


Chapter 2  Ethics and Information Technology  24

Chapter Outline  24

Introduction: “Doing” Ethics  25

Descriptive/Normative  26 • The Dialectic Method  28 • Ethics is Relative”  32

Ethical Theories and Concepts  35

Utilitarianism  35 • Intrinsic and Instrumental Value  36 • Acts versus Rules  38

Critique of Utilitarianism  39 • Case Illustration  41 • Deontological Theory  42 • Case Illustration  44 • Rights  46 • Rights and Social Contract Theory  47 • Virtue Ethics  48 • Analogical Reasoning in Computer Ethics  49

Conclusion  51Study Questions  51


Chapter 3  Ethics in IT-Configured Societies  53

Chapter Outline  53

Scenarios  54

3.1 Google in China: “Don’t Be Evil”  54 • 3.2 Turing Doesn’t Need to Know  553.3 Turnitin Dot Com  55

Introduction: IT-Configured Societies  55

Technology as the Instrumentation of Human Action  56

Cyborgs, Robots, and Humans  58

Three Features of IT-Configured Activities  60

Global, Many-to-Many Scope  61 Distinctive Identity Conditions  62 Reproducibility  65

IT-Configured Domains of Life  66

Virtuality, Avatars, and Role-Playing Games  66 Friendship and Social Networking  68 Education and Plagiarism Detection  70

Democracy and the Internet  72

What Is Democracy?  73 The Arguments  74 • Is the Internet a Democratic Technology?  76

Conclusion  79 Study Questions  79


Chapter 4  Information Flow, Privacy, and Surveillance  81

Chapter Outline  81

Scenarios  82

4.1 Email Privacy and Advertising  82 • 4.2 Workplace Spying: The Lidl Case  82• 4.3 Data Mining and e-Business  83

Introduction: Information Flow With and Without   Information Technology  84

Why Care About Privacy?  86

No Need to Worry”  87 • The Importance of Privacy  90 • Privacy as an Individual Good  90 • Privacy as Contextual Integrity  93 Privacy as a Social Good Essential for Democracy  95 Autonomy, Democracy, and the Panoptic Gaze  96  Data Mining, Social Sorting, and Discrimination  98 Crude Categories  100 •Summary of the Arguments for Privacy and Against Surveillance  101

Is Privacy Over? Strategies for Shaping Personal   Information Flow  101

Fair Information Practices  102 Transparency  104 Opt-In versus Opt-Out  104 •Design and Computer Professionals  105 •Personal Steps for All IT Users  106 •A Note on Privacy and Globalization  107

Conclusion  107  Study Questions  108


Chapter 5  Digital Intellectual Property  109

Chapter Outline  109

Scenarios  110

5.1 Obtaining Pirated Software Abroad  110 • 5.2 Free Software that Follows Proprietary Software  110 • 5.3 Using Public Domain Software in Proprietary Software  111

Introduction: The Complexities of Digital Property  111

Definitions  112  Setting the Stage  113

Protecting Property Rights in Software  114

Copyright  114  Trade Secrecy  118 Patent Protection  119

Free and Open Source Software  122

The Philosophical Basis of Property  124

Natural Rights Arguments  124 Critique of the Natural Rights Argument  125• A Natural Rights Argument Against Software Ownership  127

PS Versus FOSS  128

Is it Wrong to Copy Proprietary Software?  129

Breaking Rules, No Rules, and New Rules  133

Conclusion  135Study Questions  136


Chapter 6  Digital Order  137

Chapter Outline  137

Scenarios  137

6.1 Bot Roast  137 • 6.2Wiki Warfare  138 • 6.3Yahoo and Nazi Memorabilia  139

Introduction: Law and Order on the Internet  140

Sociotechnical Order  142

Online Crime  143

Hackers and the Hacker Ethic  145

Sociotechnical Security  150

Who Is to Blame in Security Breaches?  152 Trade-Offs in Security  153

Wikipedia: A New Order of Knowledge Production  154

Freedom of Expression and Censorship  156

John Stuart Mill and Freedom of Expression  157

Conclusion  160 •Study Questions  161


Chapter 7  Professional Ethics in Computing  162

Chapter Outline  162

Scenarios  163

7.1 Software Safety  163 • 7.2 Security in a Custom Database  164• 7.3 Conflict of Interest  164

Introduction: Why Professional Ethics?  165

Therac-25 and Malfunction 54  165

The Paradigm of Professions  167

Characteristics of Professions  168

Sorting Out Computing and its Status as a Profession  171

Mastery of Knowledge  171 Formal Organization  172 Autonomy  173 Codes of Ethics  174  The Culture of Computing  175

Software Engineering  176

Professional Relationships  178

Employer—Employee  178 Client—Professional  180 Other Stakeholders—Professional  182 Professional—Professional  183 Conflicting Responsibilities  184

A Legal Perspective on Professionalism in Computing  185

Licensing  185  Selling Software  186  Selling—Buying and the Categorical Imperative  187  Torts  188  Negligence  188

A Final Look at the State of the Profession  190

Guns-for-Hire or Professionals  190  Efficacy, Public Trust, and the Social Contract  191

Conclusion  192Study Questions  193

Websites  195

References  196

Index  198


Back Cover

Computer Ethics: Analyzing Information Technology,


The 4th edition brings the field of computer ethics into the 21st Century.  Drawing on concepts and theories from STS, this edition introduces a new approach: sociotechnical computer ethics.  The book maintains a focus on enduring issues of privacy, property, democracy, and professional ethics while coming to grips with current developments in computing, information, communication technologies, and ethical issues around social networking, free and open source software, Wikipedia, artificial agents, and more. 


The new edition is accessible to undergraduates while at the same time providing analyses that will be of interest to scholars and theorists. As before, chapters begin with short scenarios that make the issues concrete; explain the issues clearly; provide rigorous and provocative discussion; and conclude with a set of study questions.


'Perhaps the greatest strength of this work is that it excels at being both a college course textbook and as a book that advances the basic ideas that comprise the field.'

Peter Madsen, Carnegie Melon University


'I believe this is the best text on the market for Computer Ethics.'

Day Radebaugh, Wichita State University


'The author does a good job of setting the setting the stage for a discussion on Computer Ethics and the many important factors surrounding this field.'

Demetria Enis-Cole, University of North Texas


Deborah G. Johnson is the Anne Shirley Carter Olsson Professor of Applied Ethics and Chair of the Department of Science, Technology, and Society at the University of Virginia.  Johnson has devoted her career to understanding the connections between ethics and technology. She received the John Barwise prize from the American Philosophical Association in 2004; the Sterling Olmsted Award from the Liberal Education Division of the American Society for Engineering Education in 2001; and the ACM SIGCAS Making a Difference Award in 2000. 


Keith W. Miller is a Professor of Computer Science at the University of Illinois at Springfield. His work in software engineering and computer ethics provide complementary perspectives to questions that challenge computer professionals. He is the editor-in-chief of IEEE Technology and Society, and helped develop the Software Engineering Code of Ethics and Professional Practice. He was named a University of Illinois Scholar in 2000 and received the ACM SIGCAS Outstanding Service Award in 2006.