Computing Ethics Lab
Sept. 29, 2006
This lab will help us discover:
- The beginnings of a discussion of ethics and computing.
Be prepared to explain your reasoning:
The preceding discussion questions were taken from M. J. Quinn, Ethics
for the Information Age, Addison Wesley, 2005.
- Suppose you are the director of an Internet Service Provider (for example,
AOL) that serves the e-mail needs of 10,000 customers. You receive dozens
of complaints from them every week about the volume of spam they are
receiving. Meanwhile, American spammers are hacking into computers in
Jamborea (an East Asian country) and using them to mail spam back to the
United States. You estimate that at least 99% of email originating from
Jamborea is spam. A few of the messages, however, are probably legitimate
emails. Should you do anything to restrict the flow of messages from
Jamborea to your customers?
- Any original piece of intellectual property you have created, such as a
poem, term paper, or photograph, is automatically copyrighted, even if you
did not label it with a copyright notice. Think about your most valuable
piece of copyrighted material. Describe the ownership rights you would
like to claim on it.
- Which is more likely to be effective in protecting intellectual property in
digital media such as CDs and DVDs: tougher copyright laws or new
technologies incorporating more sophisticated anti-copying measures?
- You are applying for an account at a video rental store. The clerk asks
you to fill out the application form completely. One of the fields asks
for your Social Security number. You leave that field blank. The clerk
refuses to accept your application with the field filled in. You ask to
speak to the manager and the clerk replies that the manager is
unavailable. Would it be wrong in this situation to fill in a fake Social
- In a recent study, people in subway stations were offered a cheap pen in
return for disclosing their passwords. About 90% offered their passwords
in return for the pen. Do people really value privacy?
- Oberlin College requires that every computer brought to campus by a student
be inspected for viruses. System administrators remove all of the viruses
from the students' computers. Students whose computers subsequently pick
up and spread a virus may be fined $25, whether they knew about the virus
or not. Is this an ethically justifiable policy?
- While waiting for an appointment with your physician, you see a brochure
advertising a new surgical procedure that implants a tiny computer chip
inside your skull just behind your left ear. The purpose of the chip is to
help you associate names with faces. The procedure for inserting the chip
is so simple that your physician is performing it in her office. Suppose
your career is in sales, where such a device could help you earn high
commissions. What questions would you want to have answered before you
agreed to have such a device inserted into your skull?
- At work you manage a team of five employees. Your boss tells you that
because of a company-wide layoff, you will need to lay off one of your team
members. Two of your employees are substantially less productive than the
other three, but you aren't sure which of these two to lay off. You know
that the company keeps track of all Internet traffic to each person's
computer, although you have never shared this information with your team.
You could use this information to determine how much time, if any, these
two employees are spending surfing the Web. Is it wrong to access these
Thomas P. Kelliher