Business Ethics - Cyber Age

Doing business in the cyber age is completely different from the classical theories of business, which penned down many decades ago. Moreover, as the proliferation of internet and communication technologies have been increasing in an unprecedented rate, business organizations feel that, it is important to address the ethical issues that accompany technological progress.

It is important to realize that mere knowledge of cyber age problems is not enough; one has to take concrete steps to minimize the negative effects of the technological progress that is applicable to business organizations and individuals alike.

The major issues of cyber ethics can be broadly divided into five sections −

  • Privacy
  • Property
  • Security
  • Accuracy
  • Accessibility

Privacy Angle

In an 1890 Harvard Law Review seminar in, Warren and Brande said the golden words about privacy. It is an ethical and moral concept. They described privacy to be −

"Central to dignity and individuality and personhood. Privacy is also indispensable to a sense of autonomy — to 'a feeling that there is an area of an individual's life that is totally under his or her control, an area that is free from outside intrusion.' The deprivation of privacy can even endanger a person's health."

The Constituents of Privacy

Privacy can be broken down to limiting others' access to an individual or business organizations’ information with "three elements of secrecy, anonymity, and solitude."

  • Anonymity is related with the right to protection from undesired attention.

  • Solitude refers to the deficiency of physical proximity of a business or an individual.

  • Secrecy is the protection of personalized information from being freely accessed.

Protection of Private Information

Direct or indirect abuse of private information can lead to fraud and impersonation. Identity theft is a growing issue of discussion due to the availability of personal and private information on the web.

Identity Theft

Seven million Americans were subject to identity theft in 2002, 12 million in 2011, which made it the fastest growing cyber-crime in the United States. Public records, search engines, and databases are the main culprits contributing to the rise of cybercrime.

To restrict and limit online databases from proliferating sensitive personnel information, the following commandments may be useful.

  • Do not include sensitive unique identifiers, such as social security numbers, birth dates, hometown and mothers' maiden names in the database records.

  • Exclude those phone numbers, which are normally unlisted.

  • There must be simple and clear provision for people to remove their names from a database.

  • Reverse social security number lookup services should be banned.

Private Data Collection

Individuals often surrender private information for various online services. Ethical business practice would be to protect this information, which may lead to the loss of secrecy, anonymity, and solitude.

Moreover, data warehouses now collect and store enormous amounts of personal and consumer transactions data. Preserving large volumes of consumer and business information is possible for an indefinite amount of time. Erosion of privacy can be done with these databases, cookies and spyware.

There is a viewpoint that data warehouses are meant to stand-alone and need to be protected. However, personal information can be collected from corporate websites and social networking sites to initiate a malicious reverse lookup. Therefore, how public domains should use information is an ethical debate.

Property Issues

The concept of property is an issue of ethical debate for a long time. Some people argue that the internet is based around the concept of freedom of information. However, controversy over ownership has frequently occurred when the property of information is infringed upon.

Intellectual Property Rights

The increasing speed of the internet services and the emergence of file compression technology, such as mp3 have led to Peer-to-peer file sharing, which is a technology that permits users to anonymously transfer and share files to each other.

Services offered by Napster or Bit Torrent fall under the issue of file transfer and sharing. These sites offer copyrighted music and content which are illegal to transfer to other users.

Intellectual property rights include a host of rights that belong to businesses of individuals, such as patents, copyright, industrial design rights, trademarks, plant variety rights, trade dress, and in some jurisdictions trade secrets. We take up the most important constituents that having an ethical dilemma associated with them.

Patent Rights

A patent is a form of right granted by the government to an inventor, so that he may benefit monetarily from his/her invention. Many businesses have their R&D departments and their patents bring a source of revenue for them. It is constantly believed that patent infringement is common in the cyber age and that it should be dealt legally and ethically with the strictest norms.

Copyright Violation

A copyright gives the creator of original work exclusive rights to it, usually for a limited time. Copyright is usually applicable to creative, intellectual, or artistic forms, or "works". As is obvious, copying and re-creating the matter is quite easily possible in the age of information. This raises the business ethics questions whether copyright protection should be made mandatory for all creative productions. The limit of copying and re-creation is also an ethical issue.


A trademark is a recognizable and unique sign, design or expression, which distinguishes products or services. It has been quite easy to duplicate trademarks in the age of computers and internet. It raises the concerns whether there should be any mercy to those who use trademarks unethically or illegally.

Trade Secrets

A trade secret is a formula, practice, process, design, instrument, pattern, information which is secret and by which a business can obtain an economic advantage over competitors or customers. Trade secrets theft can be considered unethical because it may be tough to create or ideate a unique formula, but quite easy to replicate it.

Digital Rights Management (DRM)

The introduction and use of digital rights management software, has raised the question of whether the subverting of DRM is ethical. Some see DRM to be an ethical step; others believe that, this is wrong because the costs of products or services may go up due to DRM.

DRM is also portrayed as defenders of users' rights. This allows, for example, making copies of audio books of PDFs they receive; also allowing people to burn music they have legitimately bought to CD or to transfer it to a new computer is an issue. It looks like a violation of the rights of the intellectual property holders, leading to uncompensated use of copyrighted media.

Security Concerns

Security, in business domains, has long been an issue of ethical debate. Is it important to protect the common good of the community or we should safeguard the rights of the individual? There is a continual and growing dispute over the boundaries of these two ideas. This raises the question whether making compromises are right.

As countless people connect to the internet and the amount of personal data that is available online goes on to increase indefinitely, there is susceptibility to identity theft, cyber-crimes and computer hackings.

There is also an argument over ownership of the internet. People tend to ask who has the right to regulate the internet in the interest of security. This is a very complicated issue because huge amounts of data and countless people are associated with the internet.

Responsibility of Accuracy

The issue of accuracy is evident. We must ask questions like, who is responsible for the authenticity and fidelity of the information available online. Ethically, the concept includes a debate over who can contribute content and who should be held accountable when the content is erroneous or false. This also has a legal angle for compensation for the injured party due to wrong information and loss of capital due to these accuracy defects.

Accessibility, Censorship, and Filtering

The arguments that apply to offline censorship and filtering apply to online censorship and filtering. Is it better to have free access to information or should be protected from what is considered by a governing body as harmful, indecent or illicit. The issue of access by minors is also a major concern.

Many companies restrict their employees' access to cyberspace by blocking some sites, which are relevant only to personal usage and therefore destructive to productivity. On a larger scale, governments also create large firewalls, which censor and filter access to certain information available online which is often from foreign countries to their citizens and anyone within their borders.

Kickstart Your Career

Get certified by completing the course

Get Started