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Three sets of computer ethics

Last week Stephen Downes wrote a short post reacting to this old set of ethical standards for computer use:

Ten Commandments of Computer Ethics created by the Computer Ethics Institute*

  1. Thou Shalt Not Use A Computer To Harm Other People.
  2. Thou Shalt Not Interfere With Other People’s Computer Work.
  3. Thou Shalt Not Snoop Around In Other People’s Computer Files.
  4. Thou Shalt Not Use A Computer To Steal.
  5. Thou Shalt Not Use A Computer To Bear False Witness.
  6. Thou Shalt Not Copy Or Use Proprietary Software For Which You have Not Paid.
  7. Thou Shalt Not Use Other People’s Computer Resources Without Authorization Or Proper Compensation.
  8. Thou Shalt Not Appropriate Other People’s Intellectual Output.
  9. Thou Shalt Think About The Social Consequences Of The Program You Are Writing Or The System You Are Designing.
  10. Thou Shalt Always Use A Computer In Ways That Insure Consideration And Respect For Your Fellow Humans.

Stephen offers an alternative set: 

Downes's Computer Use Guidelines 

  • don't use computers to hurt people
  • respect people's privacy
  • don't take or use other people's stuff without permission
  • be truthful in your communications
  • don't send people unwanted messages
  • don't write malicious or destructive code
  • be generous and share what you create
  • turn off the power when room and computer are not in use

I don't disagree with a single guideline of Stephens, although I might categorize a couple of these as polite behavior rather rising to the level of ethical behavior. Or perhaps that's just splitting hairs.

Personally, I still like my simple guidelines:

Johnson’s 3 P’s of Technology Ethics:

  1. Privacy - I will protect my privacy and respect the privacy of others.
  2. Property - I will protect my property and respect the property of others.
  3. a(P)propriate Use - I will use technology in constructive ways and in ways which do not break the rules of my family, faith, school, or government.

Long lists of specific rules seem to me less effective than a few simple guidelines that can be applied in any situation. But those who enforce such rules with students need to be comfortable with a degree of flexibility, interpretation and ambiguity. Guidelines such as the 3 P's recognize that different people, different families, and different cultures may have different ethical standards. 

One of my prime biases is that education should be about teaching people to think, not to believe. Technology ethics is fine place to practice that belief.

*Note that these have been around for awhile. I quoted them in a paper published in 1998.

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Reader Comments (1)

Thank you again for the lists - still planning on using them as part of my ethics unit in a few weeks.

Hope you have, are having or had a great Labor Day!

September 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKenn Gorman

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