Computer Ethics

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