Abstracts IIb, 10 December; Sunstein, Shalvi, Cockton, Friedman, Jonas, Schumacher, Neumann, Spafford, Moor, Johnson, Stallman, Górniak-Kocikowska, Weckert
Stavros Aronis, email@example.com
The literature for the second seminar focuses on specific moral
issues that arise when examining the use of computers and
software in the modern age. Of particular interest to me was
Richard Stallman's article on why software should be free.
The author makes an argument against proprietary software, with
the central point being the benefit of society in general. Myself
being lucky enough to having never been writing software that was
not free, I would like to criticize some poor arguments that I
feel reduce the strength of the article.
The author is highly sarcastic against the emotional
statement "this program has my soul in it, so it is mine",
claiming that such emotional attachment "mysteriously vanishes"
when signing over all rights to a corporation in return for a
salary. This is however always the case with any corporate work
position: individuals relinquish ownership of their work BUT they
get something tangible in return, which they can use to gain
equal satisfaction. Such satisfaction is not always felt by
just "making a contribution to society" and the great artists and
artisans example further promotes this claim: it takes an
exceptional individual to be happy with just the acknowledgement
of work well done.
There are many similar bad arguments in the article, ranging from
grossly exaggerating comparisons (toll booths on road
intersections), failure to focus on the logical aspect of the
author's claim and turning to pure emotional talk ("damaging
social cohesion" paragraph) and a general nostalgia for the times
when software development was still young and simpler and not a
subject of large scale human activity.
What I find even more objectionable in the article however, is
the repeated waiving of the need to pay software developers
salaries. The author recognizes that developers should get some
kind of renumeration, but claims that this should come from
activities other than whatever goes into the real
software. Services, like "educating others to write software",
can be offered instead for a price or the users should donate to
developers as a form of charity recognition of their efforts.
In my opinion developers should be able to enjoy as high a salary
as they desire, by putting more effort in the development of
software itself and not some by-products. To achieve this goal,
it might be necessary that they team-up with marketists and other
professionals. I still agree that the final product should be
free for copying, modifying and studying, but this means that
their payment must be arranged by finding and developing towards
specific new needs.
David Klaftenegger, firstname.lastname@example.org
The sources discuss a number of ethical issues raised by the advent of computers in everyday life. I will focus on the works by Spafford and Johnson here, as they deal with one particular issue: property rights.
Spafford discusses the problem of "hackers", that is people accessing computers without permission beyond their usual privilege. This is largely considered unethical by Spafford, likening it to burglary. He refutes 5 different arguments:
(1) that information should be free anyways, as this denies the right to privacy,
(2) that it uncovers and helps fixing security problems, as there is a high cost associated with this approach and alternatives exist,
(3) that there are unused resources on these systems, as these resources are still limited and not a public resource,
(4) that student hackers can learn from it, as he sees more value in formal education,
(5) that it helps checking on abuse of collected data, as the presence of hackers only leads to organizations to be even more secretive.
It remains unanswered whether the author would consider the simple checking for security holes, without actually gaining access, would be morally acceptable: In this case it is much more likely to be a positive effect, yet the argument prevails that the system owner can never be sure no access happened. This uncovers the biggest flaw in the argumentation: There are criminals who have no intention in sharing their knowledge about security holes, as they intend to use these computers for their own ends. In my opinion it would be preferable to know there is a problem and have to assume the system is compromised than to have real criminals abuse the system undetected.
Johnson describes similar problems in the copying of software without permission. Again, it is likened to breaking in another's property, here with the intent to use it without payment.
The main argument why this is morally wrong seems to be that it is forbidden by law. In the author's opinion there is no compelling reason why copying of software should or should not be allowed, therefore the law should be obeyed. She goes on by describing the laws in place and their intention, and briefly states possible directions for future changes. Ignored in this work is that property entails obligations: Denying access to a good that is otherwise unused (licenses, copies of software, unused cinema seats) by setting the price too high can be considered immoral in itself, as the price could be adjusted on an individual basis. This would not damage the owner of the rights, but increase the use of and benefits drawn from them. In the case of software this would allow people to use it who are not able to afford it in any way by using "free" copies.
From an ethical standpoint this seems to be strictly preferable to the strict enforcement of property rights, yet it raises new problems: Who is to decide who is "entitled" to free use, and how to enforce those able to still do pay the money due?
Johan Östlund, email@example.com
The author lists a number of rationalizations that hackers
commonly use to motivate their actions. All are found to be easily
refutable. Essentially what Spafford argues in this essay is that
any break-in is morally wrong (except in rare cases, such as
saving lives etc.)
First the author talks about free information, but then introduces
that this free information may also be altered by anyone. That's
not the same thing. Free information may be copied and altered,
but not necessarily altered in the source.
The author repeatedly returns to the analogy of burglary, and
concludes that if locks and laws were the only things keeping
people from committing burglary, then there would be a lot more
burglars. Probably true, but how many hackers are there in the
world and how many burglars? Not sure there are a lot more..
In a big computerized society privacy becomes essential for the
core value; security. The author acknowledges that societies
exist where there is no privacy, but claims that this is only
possible in very small communities, such as a marriage.
Privacy policies may be broken if the good that does is greater
than the bad. A Utilitarian view of sorts.
Copying a piece of software is wrong, because it violates the
proprietor's law-prescribed right. However, it seems that patent
and copyright laws are a bad fit for software because invention is
impaired, which is a odds with the purpose of these regulations.
It is likely that some change is called for, although it's not
clear what that change should be.
Stallman argues that owners of programs is detrimental to
society. It is inefficient and prevents progress. Proprietary
software gets used by fewer people. Users cannot fix bugs or
otherwise improve the software by adding new features they need,
therefore evolution is slower, at best. There is also the claim
that proprietary software is bad for society because people feel
bad about not helping their neighbors. This may seem like a rather
extreem view, indeed most of what he writes is, but still I don't
think that he's all wrong.
Then Stallman argues that software would be developed even if it
couldn't be owned. That is likely true; there would be other gains
than monetary to be had by those developers. Indeed this is
already true in the open-source community. Many highly thought of
developers have earned little or no money (at least directly) from
their work, though used by millions. One such well-known example
would be Thorwalds.
The author is concerned with the current state of ethics, and it's
poor applicability in a global setting. The author notes that in
our interconnected world borders have very little meaning.
Therefore a new computer ethics must be established. Because of
the global nature of computers nowadays, this ethics must also be
global, and all people on the planet must agree on it/with it.
Banks take the liberty to close down the possibility for certain
businesses to use their payment services, giving no other reason
than that products sold are considered "immoral" (by the bank,
that is). This is a political issue, and unless the banks come to
their senses I believe there has to be legislation to straighten
Fredrik Wahlberg, firstname.lastname@example.org
Omer Ishaq, email@example.com
The reading material for the seminar 2 raises a number of ethical questions which have risen as a result of the advancements of technology in general and information technology in particular.
I was particularly intrigued by the discussion on the ethical aspects of human enhancements, as part of a report prepared of the US National Science Foundation. It is interesting to note that the lack of a universally agreed upon definition of an "enhancement" is the first impediment to this discussion. Moreover, it is difficult to draw a line between what may be considered as an acceptable or un-acceptable enhancement even when the scenario understudy is very narrowly defined. I do have a comment on this discussion: I think that any enhancement which can feasibly and successfully applied on a willing subject, will eventually be applied irrespective of whether it is ethical or not. In some cases it may be just a matter of shifting the experiments/application to a society/state which has less stringent oversight or control over such actions. As an example, consider the fact that an increasing number of large pharmaceutical companies are in the process of shifting and conducting human trials for their drugs in under-developed countries. Similarly, there may be states more willing to allow for highly controversial experiments like human cloning.
I would also like to criticize the article by Richard Stallman. It appears that while trying to do a cost/benefit analysis of software ownership for the whole society (seems like a very utilitarian idea in the first place!), the author completely ignores the rights/benefits for the group of software developers and entrepreneurs. As a counter-argument, I can argue that why should any group of professionals (doctors, lawyers etc.,) be handsomely paid for their services, after all it can be argues that it would be to the benefit of the society as a whole if doctors were made to work eighteen hours per day for free. It appears that the author singles out only the software developers as a group which should not benefit from the fruits of their labor. In fact, I would argue that to provide service (software) without proper remuneration should be outlawed (as is the case in a few other professions), unless it is a probono effort for a charitable cause. I thought that a much more balanced view was presented by Deborah Johnson in her text where she not only provides an explanation of how the current laws are structured (i.e., the patent and copyright discussion) but also discusses whether the current policy/law should be changed or not. I thought that the article by Spafford was too focused on the letter rather than the spirit of the law. It can be counter-argued that certain non-voluntary disclosures of information may in fact be quite beneficial for the society and therefore more weight should be ascribed to the motive behind the action rather that just the action itself.
Malin Källén, firstname.lastname@example.org
Below follows a summary of some texts that all discuss ethical questions brought on by the recent technological development.
Need for new ethics rules
Górniak-Kocikowska argues that the recent technical improvements in computer industry will give raise to new ethical theories, just as the increased distribution of printed texts did during the 18th and 19th century. She claims that a globally common view on computer ethics is needed.
Neumann discusses reasons for computer-related misbehavior. To decrease the amount of computer-related misbehavior, he states that among other things better computer systems and better communication and education are needed.
Even the Council of Europe handles questions of this type. During the internet governance forum 2009, they invited to discussion about topics as how to prevent crimes to be committed on the internet.
Allhoff et. al. discuss a more limited scope where today's ethical rules and theories may need to be enlarged, namely the one of human enhancement: Under what circumstances will it be reasonable to permit human enhancements, and when should it be prohibited? Will human enhancement further increase the chasms between haves and have-nots? If we permit human enhancement, will we in the long run be directly or indirectly forced to make enhancements? Would prohibitation of human enhancement be a limitation to our fundamental rights such as freedom?
A somewhat different problem is discussed in an article on the homepage of the public Swedish radio: In the ethical policy used by Swedish banks, there is a clausul against immoral operations. Many banks use this as a reason for blocking payment services for certain companies, often small stores and thereby have the power to strongly disturb their activity.
A question that needs to be reconsidered these days when information is easily made available on the internet is the one of intellectual property.
Johnson argues that copying proprietary software is wrong, but also critizes the way patents are used in the software industry.
Stallman argues that all software should be free, which does not necessarily means that it should be free of cost, but that the source code should be available to all users and that it should be allowed to copy and redistribute software.
A treaty that has been proposed in order to stop counterfeiting is ACTA. However, it has been widely criticized for not being a conterfeiting treaty but a copyright treaty. It has also been criticized for being negotiated behind closed doors, and for violating privacy and for forcing internet service providers to take action (.e.g terminate the subscription) when a user trasfers or stores material that is intellectual property.
Moor discusses the fact that more and more information such as medical records and information about our consuming habits is collected and stored as a consecuence of the development of computers. He argues for the need of privacy and suggests some principles that could be used to limit the harm and risks that follows with the increased amount and availability of information.
Revealing security holes and prevent evil or privacy-violating attacks is often used as arguments for justifying computer hacker break-ins. Spafford counter this, and some other hacker arguments, and conclude that computer hacker break-ins are in principle unethical.
Marcus Björk, email@example.com
The collected theme of all papers are that they treat ethical problems that arise from new technology. Neumann, Spafford and Moor are talking about different problems with privacy and security that follow from information technology, or more specifically, the internet and digital data. Neumann discusses computer security and states that there are three gaps that nay permit computer and/or human misbehavior. He states that among other things, better computer systems can help to decrease the computer-related misbehavior. Spafford tries to explain why computer break-ins are unethical, since regardless of the actual harm, it is still an invasion of privacy. Moor treats privacy in general and talks about the problems that arise when so much personal information can be obtained by anyone in no time. Górniak-Kocikowska proposes that a global ethic is needed to treat these new IT problems due to the globalization of information. It remains unclear how such an ethic would come to be, but it´s likely that it will become increasingly important in the future.
Johnson tries to reason if it is morally acceptable to copy proprietary software, given the current laws controlling this matter. He also expands his reasoning to include whether or not the current rules for patents and copyright are efficient. Stallman, however, thinks that all software should be free, in the sense that you can access the source code and distribute it freely. This more radical standpoint comes mainly from utilitarian reasoning, where the greater overall prosperity of mankind could increase by making software free. Even though this is plausible, the ability to protect your ideas might also encourage development. The problem is that IP might both hinder and excel development. The initial idea was that you could not patent, more or less fundamental, building blocks, and thereby stop others from using the block as a part of an algorithm. But as time has passed there are now a lot of patents that cause real problems in development. Johnson and Stallman agree that it is creativity and invention that is to be maximized, the methods of getting there are however different.
The human enhancement report talks about ethical issues that may arise when human enhancement goes to the next level. What is human enhancement, and how can we separate it from treatment? 25 different problems are treated. New theories for moral conduct will likely be needed to solve these problems in the future.
Andreas Sembrant, firstname.lastname@example.org
Should applications be Open Source or Closed Source.
I think the arguments for open source and closed source are both based on some form utilitarian ethics. What is best for the whole society. Stallman et. al. thinks that it should be open to avoid redundant work among other things. Furthermore, he argues that programmers will continue to program because programming is fun. This is probably true for many programmers, but we/I still have to make a living.
Johnson, however, defend the traditional approach with patents and copyright protections, with arguments that these protections are there to improve innovation, and hence, a benefit for the whole society.
I get the point of both sides, but I am not completely convinced by neither of them.
How much privacy can we sacrifice for new features and ease-of-use.
As a user, I want new and better programs that can improve my everyday living. However, this comes at a cost of privacy. For example, google can store information about me, and what I do. And, next time I do a web search, I get the results before I hit the enter key.
This, and many related topics must be considered in order to create a sustainable future.
Are hackers doing a community service.
Many, hackers (better referred as maybe crackers), sometimes "believe" they are doing a community service by telling the world that there is a security problems that needs to be fixed. This, may be true, but the way this is done leave a lot to be desired, even if it sometimes can bring some good.
Does internet have borders.
Geographical borders are rapidly disappearing on the internet, since it enable us to talk and discuss various topics with people from all over earth. This is a great progress, and may one day unify the world.
However, different geographical regions have different cultures, which are inevitably reflected on the Internet in some ways. A global ethics must therefore be developed and discussed that incorporate the whole world.
Mahdad Davari, email@example.com
The internet is tightly coupled with our everyday life to a degree that life without internet cannot be imagined. Now each individual has a parallel existence in the virtual world of internet: even if we sit at home for a whole day, the data belonging to us, or namely our virtual existence, has moved between servers all around the world several times in that day. Similar to our real world, the notion of privacy could also be applied to this virtual world we are now all part of it. But how this concept could be defined, with respect to ethical and moral issues?
I am personally not in favour of any argument which justifies the hacker break-ins. If hackers wanted to depict the security flaws of current computer systems, why wouldn't they simply provide a demo in a lab environment for the manufacturers? This way, they could make money, and also new job opportunities would be introduced to the unstable job market. It also sounds funny to me that information should be free. How can information be free, while I have to pay considerable amount of money for all my software/hardware needs? The only acceptable case for me would be the case in which we have to choose between a bad and a worse choice. But then by whom and how should this be defined? Today cyber-defense and cyber-war are officially practiced by governments; how such phenomena would affect individuals´ rights in a society?
On the other hand, I believe users should be informed about any data logging of their activities at end-points, terminals, websites, etc. As an example, users should be informed that their shopping habits are saved to provide a better service for the users. From that point on, it is up to the user to continue using the service or abandon it. If the owner of the collected data is going to benefit as well, then measures should be defined to guarantee that users are also equally benefited from such services; otherwise, there will be an imbalance in the benefits of the two parties, in which user privacy is being trespassed to make more profit.
The benefits of free software have been discussed by projects such as GNU. Although such benefits are unarguable, however, no free software product I know, up to this moment, can compete with its commercial peers when it comes to user friendliness and class of service, at least considering a normal user, not an IT geek. Therefore, I believe although it is good to have free software projects running, this shall not be interpreted as an argument against commercial software.
Arguments about software licenses could be misleading. Once we have purchased a product, we become the sole owner of that product. From that point on, it is up to us how we are going to use it: either use it alone, or share it with others, if we prefer. However, in case of software products, it is different: we are only entitled to use the software, and we are not the owner. Maintaining such a model is necessary for the profitability of the industry.
Muneeb Khan, firstname.lastname@example.org
Spafford discusses the issue of ethics regarding computer hijacking and hacker abuse. He discusses the commonly held views of computer hackers and how they justify their actions to be morally right. Spafford then discusses each view/excuse (such as "helping with security", "utilizing idle systems", "learning" and "corporate accountability") in detail and systematically exaplins why each of the provided argument is fallacious. He concludes computer hacking in the most common cases to be all in all unethical.
In the paper titled "Towards a theory of privacy in the information age", author Moor discusses the extent to which previously available public information has become "easily accessible" due to technology such as online phone/address/person info directory and other technologies such as global maps. The author makes an attempt towards developing a theory for sharing and storing a person´s personal information on a typical information system network. For example, as long as one´s phone number and address are concerned, it has always been public information in form of thick directories. It is not a huge issue if it becomes more accessible through internet directories. However, the question arises if a person´s personal bio-data (such as health problems and disabilities) should also be available, or who should it be made available to. The author uses the example of a person diagnosed with a disease. If this information is made available to a state´s health service e-records through which it is visible to a insurance company, then the person may have problems getting a proper life/health insurance. Such information, the author concludes, should definitely not be visible. The author proposes that for an advanced society it is necessary to have different levels of access for individuals and organizations to information. In addition to that, there should be consent of individuals regarding making visible their personal data to others (individuals/organizations) in order to live free of any fear in the society.
In the article "PROPRIETARY RIGHTS IN COMPUTER SOFTWARE: INDIVIDUAL AND POLICY ISSUES", the author Johnson explains why it is not ethical to copy proprietary software. His main argument is that it hurts the interest of the software developer who invests time, money and energy in to realizing an idea into working software. He goes on to argue that the copyright/patent laws in case of software may be a bit obscure, nonetheless they are not bad laws and their overall aim is right. Though they may not in themselves be able to completely handle the complexity of software.
Stallman in his article "Why software should be free" argues in favor of all software to be free and reasons why people/organizations should not be allowed to monopolize a market by "owning" a software they produce, through the idea of proprietary software. He argues that by not having software owned by someone, people can contribute to the same software and improve it in many ways and instead of having licensing fees, programmers can instead make money by offering services/extensions to existing free softwares. He argues that fewer people use proprietary software, as they cannot adapt it to their needs, and that such software also hampers the learning experience of novice programmers. He also strongly supports the idea of competition in providing quality software by supporting free software.
The NSF report on Ethics of Human enhancements raises several key ethical and moral issues about human enhancements/therapy with respect to enhancing bodily and mental abilities and features. The report brings into focus the right of individual freedom in a civilized Western democracy and how it can be used to argue in favor of bodily and cognitive enhancements. Besides individual freedom, the discussion also involved equity and fairness to those who are not "enhanced" out of free will or because they cannot financially afford such enhancements.
Nikos Nikoleris, email@example.com
These readings are applications of morally correct ways to design,
develop and use computers and their networks. They are not new theories
that try to handle new problems, but merely analyses of the new
questions that arise with the introduction of new technologies and
opportunities of their usage using the same theoretical ethics tools. I
will focus on two of these readings that I have faced more and I find
interesting. I will also try to give my view and experience on these
Computer Security And Human Values.
Computer and communication security poses very interesting moral
questions due the very wide acceptance of their usage in almost every
aspect of our lives. P. Neumman describes security as a double-edged
sword which can potential improve but also restrict the usage of
computers and networks.
The author focuses on security issues due to hackers and misuse but also
due to undesirable system and user behavior. He acknowledges the
progress in the recent years, which makes systems less vulnerable to
every sort of attack but at the same time techniques and problem that
jeopardize systems become better and more complex to handle. At the same
time he tries to explain the trade-offs when designing secure systems
without restricting their potential uses, not making them extremely hard
to design and manage.
Administering computer systems that provided services, I have been posed
with very similar questions regarding their security. It has been very
challenging to try to keep the system running providing what the
administrators and users perceived as expected behavior while at the
same time trying to restrict possible penetrations both by internal
misuses and external malicious attackers. There was hardly ever a way to
do that without compromising in the services' user friendliness. Every
time we had to introduce a security feature we had either to keep the
"old" insecure way of doing things or assume that the users could adopt to
the new ways of usage or write extensive guides to educate our users and
make them more familiar with the new features. For all these he had to
respect privacy and at the same time manage the complexity of the design
of the new systems.
Why Software Should Be Free.
In this paper R. Stallman advocates the release of software applications
under the terms of the GNU Public License, rendering them free. By the
term free software the author refers to the freedom of its usage rather
than its price. The main argument is that way the total benefit of the
society maximizes, better and more software is written and more people
have access to it.
I have been an advocate of free software since I started using
computers. This question has been very popular in the era of operating
systems and more recently in many computer systems, from hand-held
devices to servers providing services. Having access to very wide
knowledge base through open source software that I was always challenged
to deploy and some times extend to make it provide what I expected from
it. Nowadays while using tools in my research it's hardly ever possible
to build on proprietary software and do research using it. I can hardly
imagine how my research would be without all these open source software.
To that end I agree with the author that free software promotes
research, at least as it is conducted outside the borders of a single
company or a single research institute.