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Introduction to Computer Ethics

Introduction to Computer Ethics

The introduction of the World Wide Web in 1990 has catalyzed the expansion of the Internet, which is still growing today at unprecedented rates. The recent growth of the Internet has resulted not only in an increase in the amount of available knowledge, but in an increase in the problems inherent to its usage and distribution. It has become clear that traditional rules of conduct are not always applicable to this new medium, so new ethical codes are now being developed.
Ethics, in the classical sense, refers to the rules and standards governing the conduct of an individual with others. As technology and computers became more and more a part of our everyday lives, we must understand that the problems that have always plagued business and conduct will continue to be a problem. In fact, a new medium can provide even more difficult questions of judgment. In other words, since the introduction of the World Wide Web, the definition of ethics has evolved, too. A new type of ethics known as computer ethics has emerged. Computer ethics is concerned with standards of conduct as they pertain to computers.
Why do we need computer ethics?
• the growth of the WWW has created several novel legal issues
• the existence of new questions that older laws cannot answer
• traditional laws are outdated/anachronistic in this world
• a more coherent body of law is needed to govern Internet and computers
Three of the more pressing concerns in computer ethics today are questions of copyright, privacy, and censorship, all of which are discussed in greater detail in the following three sections. Other problems exist as well, though. One problem is that many domain names (www.whateverishere.com) are being bought and sold to the highest bidder. For example, recently a man bought the name www.drugs.com and auctioned it off. Many people are purposely buying up company names and selling them to those companies at outrageous prices. President Clinton calls these people ‘Squatters’ and wants to pass a law forbidding them to buy up already existing company names. Is this fair? Don’t these people have a right, under capitalism, to make money this way? Or is it near-blackmail?
Many people have been tricked my e-mail scams, claiming that they will make you a millionaire. It is the same sort of pyramid scheme that exists over telephone or mail, but no laws covered it for a while. Also, many email chain letters have allowed urban legends to spread at an accelerated rate and created alarm over hoaxes concerning many food and drug products. These emails only bog down email systems and servers, but do not seem to be ending. Some advertisers also email unsolisisted ads to email users, in a practice known as spamming.
Computers present us not only with vast new potential in technology, but also in ethics. Morality must play catch-up to technology that has leap-frogged ahead. Without a knowledge of computer ethics, you will not be fully equipped to enter the new world of online society – and you will need to enter that world, whether you choose a career in art, programming, business, or anything else.