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Chris Barts Fall 2013 CSCI-315E Final Exam

Section One, Question Two:

The ACM Code of Ethics1 and the AITP Standards of Conduct2 are two ethical codes which are designed to give guidance to computer programmers. Though broadly similar in most respects, there are nonetheless meaningful differences between them. For example, the AITP Standards are more deontological, explicitly calling upon programmers to uphold the law, whereas the ACM Code is more utilitarian, advising programmers to act consistently with the public interest. On the other hand, the AITP Standards emphasize only reporting the bad acts of others when you have a reasonable basis for believing them, and doing so without regard to what the consequences to yourself would be. All in all, the ACM Code is better for recognizing that, sometimes, a higher standard can be served by violating the law, and that we as programmers are bound by those higher standards. Going point-by-point, we have the following comparison of the two codes: 1. The first point in the AITP Standards says admonishes the reader to be honest in all my professional relationships. This is essentially similar to Principle 6 of the ACM Code, which is summarized as Software engineers shall advance the integrity and reputation of the profession consistent with the public interest. 2. The second point in the AITP Standards reads Take appropriate action in regard to any illegal

1 2

http://www.computer.org/portal/web/certification/resources/code_of_ethics http://www.aitp.org/?page=ConductStandards

or unethical practices that come to my attention. However, I will bring charges against any person only when I have reasonable basis for believing in the truth of the allegations and without any regard to personal interest. This is similar to Principle 5 of the ACM Code, which is summarized as Software engineering managers and leaders shall subscribe to and promote an ethical approach to the management of software development and maintenance., and Principle 6, which is summarized as Software engineers shall advance the integrity and reputation of the profession consistent with the public interest. The big difference is that the ACM Code includes subsection 6.06: Obey all laws governing their work, unless, in exceptional circumstances, such compliance is inconsistent with the public interest. This concern for the public interest potentially overshadowing obedience to the law is a distinctly utilitarian ethos, advocating as it does for judging the ethics of an act based on its social utility, which is the definition of utilitarianism according to our textbook.3 3. The third point in the AITP Standard says Endeavor to share my special knowledge. This is related to subsection 6.02 of the ACM Code, Promote public knowledge of software engineering., and subsection 1.08, Be encouraged to volunteer professional skills to good causes and contribute to public education concerning the discipline. 4. The fourth point in the AITP Standard says Cooperate with others in achieving understanding and in identifying problems. In the ACM Code, this is best covered by subsection 1.04, Disclose to appropriate persons or authorities any actual or potential danger to the user, the public, or the environment, that they reasonably believe to be associated with software or related documents., subsection 2.06, Identify, document, collect evidence and report to the client or the employer promptly if, in their opinion, a project is likely to fail, to prove too

Tavani, Herman. (2013) Ethics and Technology: Controversies, Questions, and Strategies for Ethical Computing . Fourth Edition. Wiley. p. 53

expensive, to violate intellectual property law, or otherwise to be problematic., and subsection 3.07, Strive to fully understand the specifications for software on which they work. 5. The fifth point in the AITP Standard says Not use or take credit for the work of others without specific acknowledgement and authorization. The ACM Code covers this with subsection 7.03, Credit fully the work of others and refrain from taking undue credit. 6. The sixth point in the AITP Standard says Not take advantage of the lack of knowledge or inexperience on the part of others for personal gain. The ACM Code covers this with subsection 6.05, Not promote their own interest at the expense of the profession, client or employer., and subsection 6.07, Be accurate in stating the characteristics of software on which they work, avoiding not only false claims but also claims that might reasonably be supposed to be speculative, vacuous, deceptive, misleading, or doubtful., in that a client would have to be somewhat ignorant or inexperienced to be taken in by vacuous claims.

On a point-by-point basis, this portion of the AITP Standard falls short of the ACM Code in not advising programmers to continue their education (section eight of the ACM Code). This is a significant concern in the world of software development, where something which is best practice can quickly become dangerously outmoded to the point it would be unethical to use it in any new projects. It also offers no guidance for how to manage a software project (section five of the ACM Code), which is a substantial omission especially in the case of an entrepreneur who hires other programmers. On a point-by-point basis, the AITP Standard outperforms the ACM Code in explicitly telling programmers to be reasonably sure that their accusations are well-founded. (Point 2 of the AITP Standard.) The ACM Code does state, in section 5.10, Provide for due process in hearing charges of violation of an employer's policy or of this Code., but this really only applies to managers, and doesn't

solve the harms caused by false accusations. In addition, subsection 7.07, Not unfairly intervene in the career of any colleague; however, concern for the employer, the client or public interest may compel software engineers, in good faith, to question the competence of a colleague., may be taken to cover this as well, but it is far from the explicit statement the AITP Standard makes. This is a substantial omission in the ACM Code, given how much a career can be harmed by a false accusation at the wrong time. Overall, the ACM Code is better because of its strong advocacy for the public interest, which is equivalent to the social utility which utilitarian ethical philosophy aims to maximize. Specifically, subsection 6.06, quoted above, advocates breaking the law if a higher social good is served by doing so. This is a vital point to make in an ethical code; it recognizes that laws, as products of humans, are fallible and occasionally made by people who don't have Ph.D.s in Computer Science in addition to their J.D.s and so are not in possession of all the facts as regards computer technology and software. Therefore, recognizing the need to break the law to prevent an even worse outcome is an essential part of any realistic, humane code of ethics, for programmers or anyone else.

Section Two, Question One: Part a: This is unethical from a just-consequentialist perspective. According to the just-consequentialist framework, as laid out in our textbook, we must look at potential plans of action without regard to who is playing which role and then decide among them by looking at duties, general ethical precepts, and the avoidance of unnecessary harms.4 Emily has a duty to her employer to help him build his businesses, and unnecessarily harms him by depriving him of the profits he could have obtained had he

Ibid., pp. 69-70

been able to patent the software and reap the benefits appertaining thereto. It is also unethical from a rule utilitarian perspective. According to the rule utilitarian framework, as laid out in our textbook, we must decide the ethics of an action by generalizing it to a rule and then deciding whether following that rule in every case would lead to the greatest good for the greatest number.5 If every employee were to patent the ideas they were hired to work on, employers would be unwilling to hire people unless and until they felt they had iron-clad ownership of their ideas, which would greatly reduce the rate at which people could be hired, software could be developed, and the software field as a whole could grow and prosper. This is a terrible outcome, which results in the least good for the greatest number, so we must conclude Emily's actions are unethical. Part b: John's action is ethical according to the categorical imperative. The categorical

imperative is, per the textbook, the ethical principle which states that something is ethical if it can be generalized into a rule which is universally followed.6 Here, the act is telling people that a company is collecting personal information for advertising purposes without obtaining the informed consent of the people whose information is being collected. Were everyone to act like that, people would always know who was collecting personal information, either through informed consent or through leaks like the one John is responsible for. This would increase people's ability to act as free moral agents, and to decide for themselves which companies to do business with. As it is a duty to increase the amount of freedom in the world, John's action is ethical. John's action is also ethical according to act deontology. Act deontology consists of weighing your prima facie duties and considering which choice of action best allows you to obey your most

5 6

Ibid., p. 56 Ibid., p. 57

important duty in a given situation.7 In this case, the prima facie duties are obedience to one's employer and being honest to society as a whole. In this case, being honest to society as a whole is infinitely more important than being obedient to your employer, so releasing the information is the ethical choice. Section Two, Question Two: Eric's actions are ethical according to the IEEE Code of Ethics and both just-consequentialist and rule utilitarian ethical frameworks. His website serves a valid and vitally important role in any just and free society, and even if it is against the law those ethical sources countenance breaking the law if it serves a higher purpose, as it does in this case. Point One of the IEEE Code of Ethics states accept responsibility in making decisions consistent with the safety, health, and welfare of the public, and to disclose promptly factors that might endanger the public or the environment.8 Point Nine states avoid injuring others, their property, reputation, or employment by false or malicious action. Both of those points justify Eric's actions: In reference to Point One, accepting responsibility means making the decision to disclose these secrets, which have a direct impact on the public in terms of economic factors (the Walmart and GM leaks especially), social factors (the Conoco Philips leak), and possibly even health factors (the Coca-Cola leak, depending on what's in the syrup). In reference to Point Nine, the malicious action would be to keep quiet and avoid the trouble the website would bring; Eric cannot do that and obey the IEEE Code of Ethics at the same time. Just-consequentialist ethics demand that we formulate multiple possible plans of action, deliberate on which one will have the best outcome with the fewest unnecessary harms without

7 8

Ibid., p. 60 http://www.ieee.org/about/corporate/governance/p7-8.html

considering who in specific is being benefited and harmed, and choose that one as our next action.9 Eric could have kept his secrets and not made the website. That would have had the positive effect of making the businesses more profitable, helping everyone who is employed in an upper management position in those businesses but harming everyone else impacted by those businesses' bad acts. Creating the website harms the earnings of the aforementioned upper management, but stops or prevents the much greater harms visited on the rest of the people. Therefore, making the website is the only course of action permissible under just-consequentialist ethics. Rule utilitarianism demands that we generalize any specific action into a general rule, and then consider whether the greatest good for the greatest number would be obtained if we followed that rule.10 In this case, the act is making a website which discloses damaging secrets about illegal and unethical actions undertaken by the upper management of large corporations. The rule derived from that is People should disclose secrets if those secrets would unjustly harm many others. Following that rule would lead to the greatest good for the greatest number: The people who were trying to keep the secrets might be harmed, but the greater number who would be harmed by the secrets would be saved, which is the goal of a utilitarian philosophy. Therefore, rule utilitarianism demands the creation of the website. Eric is clearly ethically justified in creating the website. The IEEE Code of Ethics both encourages it and says nothing against it; the fact it doesn't even mention the law is, in light of the ACM Code's counsel to break the law if it serves a higher purpose, not an oversight but an example of the utilitarian ethical philosophy. In a broader sense, two distinct ethical philosophies both argue for the creation of the website, further justifying the action.

Tavani, Herman. (2013) Ethics and Technology: Controversies, Questions, and Strategies for Ethical Computing . Fourth Edition. Wiley. pp. 69-70

10 Ibid., p. 56

Section Three, Question One: Part a: It is ethical for Bill to accept the advertising because he has a duty to run the most profitable site he can, in order to better the lives of the people he's currently employing and the people he may prospectively employ to help run his site. This is justified through act deontology, where we must weigh various prima facie duties and choose the action which will allow us to satisfy the most important ones.11 Bill does have a duty to society to not run a scummy website which panders to the basest urges of slime wrapped in skin, but he has a much more important duty to the people who he's employing, who trust him to look out for them, their futures, and the futures of their families. Therefore, act deontology justifies Bill's actions. Bill's actions can also be justified through rule utilitarianism. Rule utilitarianism commands us to generalize each action into a rule which would be applied in other instances, and only do actions which would lead to rules that would maximize the amount of goodness and minimize the badness in the world.12 In this case, the act is Accepting sleazy advertisements to run a website and hire more people. The rule is Everyone should be willing to accept sleazy ads to run a website if it would allow them to hire more people. Following that rule would lead to more people being hired, the people who have been hired being paid more, and the people who work for sleazy ad companies being paid more as well. There is some damage being done as a result, but it is diffuse whereas the good being done is immediate and will lead to even more good, as both website companies and ad companies can hire more and more people due to the mutually beneficial relationship they share. Therefore, rule utilitarianism justifies Bill's actions as well.

11 Ibid., p. 60 12 Ibid., p. 56

Part b:

Kate has an obligation to stay at the company because of subsection 7.07 of the ACM

Code, which states Not unfairly intervene in the career of any colleague.13 Kate's leaving the company would likely destroy the careers of the website company's employees, which is the ultimate form of unfairly intervening in them. Therefore, despite her very understandable moral qualms, Kate has an ethical obligation to stay at the company and to help it succeed. Kate also has an ethical obligation from the perspective of act deontology, as described above in Part a. In this case, the conflicting prima facie duties are, on the one hand, to not help run a website which gives ambulatory pieces of excrement another place to befoul, and, on the other hand, to continue to give a work environment and a paycheck to the people she agreed to work with when she first signed on to help run the website. The second duty, to help run the site, is more important, as duties to people you made an explicit or strongly implied agreement with are more pressing than duties to people you've never even seen and who have no reason to expect you to look out for them. Therefore, Kate has a duty to stay at her job in preference to potentially putting people into poverty. Part c: Bill and Kate have a duty to remove the pictures by the ethical philosophy of act deontology (q.v.); in this case, the conflicting duties are to leave the pictures up, which would honor the implied agreement with the site's users, and to not risk a damaging lawsuit or series thereof, which would protect their employees from financial ruin assuming the lawsuits are damaging enough to seriously hurt profitability. As above, your duty to people you have made explicit agreements with is much more binding than your duty to people you don't even know, so the images have to go. The ACM Code also provides guidance here. Subsection 6.06 says Obey all laws governing

13 http://www.computer.org/portal/web/certification/resources/code_of_ethics

their work, unless, in exceptional circumstances, such compliance is inconsistent with the public interest. In this case, there is no exceptional circumstance which would justify even potentially breaking a law, so the images have to be removed on that ground as well.

Part d:

Kate has an ethical duty to leave because now the site is beyond being slimy and is

simply built on lies. Previously, the two-legged insects were at least being pandered to honestly; now, the site is a roach motel of deceit. In addition, the company is now large enough and the site, profitable enough to not need her anymore. At this point, act deontology dictates that she leave: Her choices are to either stay and run the site, which wouldn't be harmed by her leaving so she no longer has a duty to her co-worker or employees, or to leave, which would serve the duty of not lying to make your living. With no very strong duty compelling her to stay, her duty to leave is now controlling, so she must go. The ACM Code also provides guidance in the towards-the-exit direction in this case. Subsection 6.01 says Help develop an organizational environment favorable to acting ethically. which is only possible if she stops helping run a company built on lies. The company is now too profitable with its current business plan to be changed, so the best example she can possibly set is to stop helping it and go do something which won't form a test case in an ethics course.