The concept of ethical IT first emerged in the late 1970’s, when computers were still in their infancy and the relationship between man and machine we are now so familiar with, did not yet exist. Even then, it was clear that IT would one day play a huge role in our daily lives, leading to some complex questions and moral dilemmas.
The origins and evolution of ethical IT
The growth of ethical IT goes hand in hand with technological advances in computers. These now commonplace machines have always given rise to moral concerns, thanks to the frequency with which they are used for malicious purposes.
As early as 1978, the matter of computer ethics was being debated, leading to the drawing up of a list of guidelines on behaviours to be adopted when using computers, published in the early 1990’s. The original idea has now evolved to include points intrinsic to the digital era, with the aim of making people more aware, whether from an individual, professional or social point of view.
In 1992, the ten commandments of ethical IT were set out, highlighting the principles which should be adhered to during computer use, as follows:
- The computer must not be used to cause harm to others;
- Avoid causing annoyance to others by commenting on their work while they are using the PC;
- Respect the privacy of others’ files;
- The computer must not be used to commit theft;
- Identity theft is not ethical;
- Avoid software programs which have not been purchased or held using standard methods;
- Use IT resources belonging to others only if authorisation has been received;
- Respect the intellectual property of others;
- Consider the social consequences of programs that you write;
- The computer must be used with respect.
These principles are still valid, but should be further expanded in order to regulate the use of social networks, the collection of personal data, digital marketing and other aspects of the web 2.0.
The new ethical IT and career opportunities
Those working in the field of ethical IT (there are now University degree courses to provide experts in this sector), follow the environmental approach in order to assess related issues and their implications.
The idea is to analyse the IT context within the infosphere: a digital environmental system in which actions and behaviours have direct consequences on other inhabitants of the infosphere. The abstraction method and the constructionist-minimalist model are also associated with this theory.
This new way of viewing computers (and IT in general) ethically also includes areas such as the internet management with respect to teleworking, the protection of users’ privacy, cyber-crime and the digital divide.
Companies have for some time recognised the importance of dealing with these areas effectively, with the emergence of figures such as the compliance officer: an expert in the field of ethical ICT, now fundamental in the management of digital relations with clients.
Despite these guidelines, there are still many people who act without giving sufficient consideration to their actions, whether consciously or unwittingly. In many cases, the world of computers is seen as detached from reality, so behavioural rules might not be followed quite as closely.
This is why there is need for a real educational programme designed to train digital users. This involves the new generations above all, who have a symbiotic relationship with the IT world but are also the most vulnerable to the dangers it represents.
Translated by Joanne Beckwith