Understanding the complex and subtle topic of the "ethics of information" is a daunting task. What are ethics? For that matter, what is, or maybe even more importantly, what is not information? In the modern "information age" of rapidly changing technologies, organizational structures and policies, and emerging social behaviors, how can we begin to critically examine the role of ethics in the use of information by our organizations, by authorities, and in our lives? This book is the culmination of the efforts of a class of dedicated seniors at the Leeds School of Business enrolled in a senior seminar titled "The Ethics of Information: Snooping, Hacking, Surveillance, Lying and other Forms of (mis)Communication." They wrestled with highly topical and relevant issues regarding the changing ethical challenges they will face in their lives and professions and they researched, wrote and edited the chapters in this volume. In this ever-more information-dependent era, young professionals are the targets of an increasingly sophisticated network of technologies designed for information gathering, storage and dissemination by individuals, corporations, and their own governments. Examining information ethics beyond the pervasive utilitarian and consequence perspectives provides insights on how we can shape and transform the ethics, which guide our personal, and our public behaviors.
Information can be considered a representation of some aspect of the external or internal world. It can reflect a "reality", create a desire, or represent commonalities. As the course focus was not on specific technologies, authors were free to focus on the ethics of the participants regarding information itself and this changed the discussion in significant ways. In "Representing Misrepresentation" we see how our ethics regarding truth can be altered to fit the actor's agenda with the ubiquitous technologies at hand. "Crooked Numbers: Using Opinion to Shape Statistics" explicates the manner in which "objective facts" can be shaped to support particular biases. The need for critical viewing of marketing images by consumers in addition to a strong "duty to society" on the part of the advertiser is the subject of "Perception of Images in Advertising and Impact on Consumers' Lives".
Another major area that was examined was the domain of personal information, how it is used, and what it means. "The Data Mine: Whose Gold is It?" uses a fairness and justice approach to examine the lack of control of personal information and the value of our digital "facsimile". Our (sometimes unwarranted) faith in genetic screening and DNA fingerprints, and the need for greater critical examination of this information, is the subject of "Fear, Faith, and Fact". The increasing use of personal data and the sophistication of data mining tools is noted in "Data Aggregation."
Some were surprised, and a few outraged, by the broad acceptance of surveillance, from government monitoring of phone calls, emails, and international travel patterns to corporate monitoring of web-site visits, communications, physical location, and computer keystrokes1. In "Panopticon Dreams", the author examines some negative outcomes and provides valuable insights into the hidden assumptions underlying the widely accepted practice of workplace surveillance. Managerial anxiety, and the undercurrent of angst regarding a computer controlled society are the subject of "It’s the Systems Decision" whereas "Executive Pay" examines how greater corporate transparency could become the basis for more equitable executive compensation.
Finally, some authors addressed ethical issues emerging from the convergence of technologies and behaviors. In "Virtue Ethics in Virtual Worlds" we are able to see how technologies can separate people from their own self-sanctioning of behavior, and makes it easy to practice and internalize non-virtuous behaviors. The role of authority and parents in controlling children's access to information is examined in "The Ethics of Censorship Should Governments Cover Our Children’s Eyes?" This volume concludes with, "The Shouting War and the Shrinking Message" which examines the role of communication channels and underlying motivations that support or inhibit debate of substantive issues.
This book represents a substantial amount of thought, argument, and personal self-reflection by a group of bright and talented students. Despite the abstract and challenging nature of the topics and ethical frameworks, these papers represent a critical component of education – participation in the debate. These students have created and earned a greater awareness of individual, corporate and government policies and practices, as well as an understanding of the implications of not considering the changing ethical aspects at The Edge of Information.
Dr. Dirk S. Hovorka
Scholar in Residence
Leeds School of Business
University of Colorado at Boulder
1 Stanley, J., and Steinhardt, B. "Bigger Monster, Weaker Chains:
The Growth of an American Surveillance Society," American Civil Liberties Union New York, 2003.