Ethical Practices in Information Technology

Introduction

The world is currently experiencing adverse changes in the field of information technology. These advancements have changed the manner in which economic entities operate. Many businesses have adopted the use of technology. In almost all business activities, there are information technology experts who monitor the computer networks of these organizations. Therefore, as the field of information technology advances, there is a need for a code of conduct to be developed. Information technology, like every other field, has to adhere to ethics. These are moral standards that would ensure professionalism is maintained. According to Johnson (2008), ethics is essential since it acts as a tool that defines how a professional IT expert performs his/her duty in society. Issues on security and privacy that have been a concern to society are now recognized as matters of ethics (Brooks, 2010).

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Information technology is a powerful tool in the current world. Almost every individual on the planet stores some pieces of his or her information in the vast networks that are now used. With the introduction of social sites, email services, internet banking and other advances in technology, a lot of information has been exposed to the public. Such information may be accessed easily by anyone who has the access to these systems. With such exposure to information, vulnerability is inevitable. It is with regards to this issue that the need for ethics arises. It is a common practice while registering on most sites nowadays, to see a column that explains the privacy policy and how the information an individual is sundering may be used by the site. Taking Facebook as an example (the biggest social network of our generation), the privacy settings are clearly stated, and it is up to the user of the network to specify what he or she can expose to the public. This serves as a good example of an ethical practice that is used in the information technology sector. Issues on privacy form a major component of ethics in IT. Moral standards on the use of personal information by the IT sector have to be upheld.

Reasons for Computer Ethics

Various reasons have been advanced to find out why there is a need for ethics in the information technology sector. The most commonly accepted reason for studying ethics is based on professionalism. The idea of professionalism is usually associated with the connection between the awareness of what is right to do and the real conduct of an individual. Companies usually implement ethics to keep their standards according to certain accepted levels. Ethics is also used to maintain the discipline of IT experts as well as their professionalism. According to Bowyer (2001), almost all professional IT organizations create their own code of conduct and ethical rules. A good example of professional ethics is the confidentiality code of conduct. This code does not allow IT, experts, to use any information acquired in the course of professional work unless by consent of the client.

With the knowledge in information technology, great power and responsibility come. Most IT experts have access to a lot of information that may be lethal for one person to hold. Therefore, ethical rules have been set by organizations to prevent the misuse of information that may be acquired during professional work in the IT business. Ethics acts as a form of security to an information giver (Payne & Landrey, 2008). Computers have led to a significant increase in the abuse of information and fraud. Taking the banking industry as an example, there are high chances of unethical behavior to be involved in fraudulent activities when there is little information about an individual. The enactment of professional ethics coupled with policies in IT reduces the chances of fraud. Thus, ethical rules are used in the IT sector to mold behavior and protect the client preventing his or her information from being sabotaged.

Technological advances have led to a tendency of developing a temporary overlap in policies. Technological changes may lead to the scrapping of some policies and the introduction of new ones. During this time, some of the policies may overlap, and sometimes, a policy vacuum may be created. A policy vacuum occurs when there are no rules governing the new technology. In case technology creates a policy vacuum, new policies have to be formulated to govern the new technology. For example, with the advances made in the cell phone industry, there came a point where the cell phone makers introduced gadgets that emitted high radiation. Such gadgets were harmful to the consumers, and therefore, governments were forced to come up with new policies against such gadgets. Issues on ethics may arise when advances in technology create a vacuum in the policy. In case of the cell phones, it became unethical to use technology that is harmful to humans. Therefore, technology companies have incorporated this code of conduct in their ethical practices. A greater part of the IT industry is going green in order to adhere to the health code of conduct.

Despite embracing technology, society also has some grievances against the incoming technology in the IT sector. It has led to the losses of many jobs in the current economies. With the automation of the business industry, most jobs that were once performed by several people are currently automated or require only one person. This has led to a heated debate on the ethical issues associated with information technology and job losses. Most scholars and philosophers argue that it is unethical for humans to lose jobs for computers. Brooks (2008) portrayed the social issue of job displacement as one of the unethical interference of information technology in the current world. The rate at which technology is developing makes it challenging to do moral and ethical decisions concerning it.

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Development of Information Technology and Ethics

Rapid development in the IT sector has led to a transformation in ethical practices to a degree that the changes become a topic of study in their own accord. For example, previously, people worried about storing their information on computers for security reasons. Now, most people do not worry about it because their main concern has changed to the kind of software available to protect them when they store information on computers. For this reason, the ethical rules that were viable during the time when people were worried about storing their information in computers are no longer applicable. A new study topic has emerged since new ethics are to be applied when using different software for protection. Therefore, people now have to study ethics concerned with software for protection rather than study ethics connected with computers in general. Ethics is to be current and should conform to the requirements of the customers. In the case of new software available in the market, the ethical practice is to ensure that the use of such software does not jeopardize the privacy and the security of the user.

Development in information technology has led to the ease of access to information. Currently, people can use Automated Teller Machines to gain access to cash anywhere in the world. They can also use electronic cards to facilitate transactions via the internet anywhere in the world. With such a leap in ICT, there has been an increased risk of fraud. People have become prone to internet fraud where millions of dollars are lost annually. The reason for these frauds can be attributed to the lack of ethics among many users of the internet. In his book, The Real Guru of Ethics, Tennant (2007) conveyed the message that the higher the levels of technology in the world are, the higher requirements for ethics and standards to govern the code of conduct are implemented.

A management information system is one of the technological advances that have come under scrutiny. Managements of different entities have high amounts of sensitive information. Therefore, their ethical practices have to be clearly defined because misuse of such information is usually punishable in the law courts. A good example of managerial use of personal information that came to light is the case where Google admitted gathering personal information of its customers in order to improve customer experience. The revelation of this piece of information raised several questions on the issue of privacy. These questions in turn lead to considering whether these actions by Google were ethical or unethical. Many individuals suppose that it is unethical for companies to gather information about customers without the knowledge of the last. Therefore, according to some people and activist groups, Google management has no right to use this information since they are not ethical in obtaining it.

Imparting Knowledge about Ethics

Ethics has become a major topic of discussion in the IT sector. There are proposals that users of information technology should be educated on ethical practices. Awasthi (2008) showed that there was a difference between individuals who took time to study ethics and those who lacked ethical knowledge. Therefore, there is a need of incorporating the study of ethics in both the university curriculum and the managerial training (Awasthi, 2008). This would improve the general ethical practices being observed in the current ICT world. Given the role and importance of informational technology in the current world, it is a shame that a well-defined code of conduct has not been developed. The IT experts need to take responsibility and develop a comprehensive framework of ethical rules that can be followed in their field. This framework can be then incorporated in informational technology studies to ensure that every student adheres to the set of principles after their studies.

Conclusion

Information technology has rapidly developed causing a need for a set of principles to govern the profession. This set of principles is identified as ethics. Ethics is ideally a key component in the information technology sector since it acts as a tool that defines how a professional IT expert will perform his or her duty in society. With the development of strong ethical practices, the information technology sector can reduce some of the challenges it faces. Challenges such as fraud can be eliminated by educating professionals in the field of information technology about ethics. Therefore, the IT sector is required to develop comprehensive ethical practices to be incorporated into the education system. It is obvious that technology is the major driver of future endeavors, and without strong ethical practice, the future of information technology promises to be bleak. Information technology like every other field has to adhere to ethics for its success.

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References

Awasthi, V. (2008). Managerial Decision-Making on Moral Issues and the Effects of Teaching Ethics. Journal of Business Ethics, 78(1-2), 207-223.

Bowyer, K. W. (2001). Ethics and Computing. New York: Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

Brooks, R. (2008). Addressing Ethics and Technology in Business: Preparing Today’s Students for the Ethical Challenges Presented by Technology in the Workplace. Contemporary Issues in Education Research. American Journal of Business Education, 1 (2), 23-32.

Brooks, R. (2010). The Development of A code of Ethics: An Online Classroom Approach to Making Connections between Ethical Foundations and the Challenges Presented by Information Technology. American Journal of Business Education, 3(10), 1-13.

Johnson, D. G. (2009). Computer Ethics. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Payne, D. & Landrey, B. J. (2006). A Uniform Code of Ethics: Business and IT Professional Ethics. Communications of the ACM, 49(11), 81-84.

Tennant, D. (2007). The Real Ethics Guru. Computerworld, 4(1), 43-44.

Ethical Practices in Information Technology
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