This post analyses my views on ethical responsibilities of IT professional in the fictitious, ethically ambiguous scenario.
Example of a Fictitious Scenario
A software developer responsible for maintaining online product catalog is asked by the manager to ‘fabricate’ and publish positive customer responses for a new product.
What are my responsibilities?
I would feel more responsibilities to defend the I.T. Professionals Code of Ethics, rather than just blindly comply with an unreasonable request of my manager. The manager is clearly making a dishonest request, which carries possible adverse effects on the future of the business as well as on my professional growth as an employee. My moral obligation and responsibility would thus be firmly on the side of the code of ethics of my industry, whose principals I want to uphold and promote.
“Software engineers shall advance the integrity and reputation of the profession consistent with the public interest.” (Acm.org., 2017).
Would I comply with the manager’s request?
I would not comply because I do not want to be involved in an unethical and possibly unlawful behavior (explained further below).
Instead, I would explain to my manager (or employer), that while I completely understand the increased competition and the business need to establish a new product on the market, I cannot proceed with the unethical posting of fabricated product testimonies.
What would be my reaction to the manager’s request?
I would argument the following reasons for my denial to comply:
- I am a computer/IT professional, and I have the moral obligation to do my work to the best of my abilities.
- I want to influence others to do good by setting an example through my actions.
- I believe in the IEEE and the ACM Code and moral imperatives such as being honest and trustworthy
- I want to maintain my professional competence and the highest level of ethical behavior.
What other actions I could take and why?
“The business practice requires trust” (Bowie, N. E., 2017), so I would clarify that there are adverse effects to posting fake reviews and detail why being deceitful is not ethical, nor good for our clients and the business in general.
I would point my manager to review the Software Engineering Code of Ethics as defined by the ACM and make an argument, that a software professional needs to “act in a manner that is in the best interests of our clients” (Gotterbarn, D., Miller, K., & Rogerson, S., 1997).
As I live in Canada, I would also ask my employer to review the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards defined by the Advertising Standards Canada. The ASC has banned the practice of publishing false testimonies and reviews since the amendments to the code on Oct 3, 2016, stating the “new guidelines require online influencers in Canada to fully disclose paid endorsements” (Advertising Standards Canada, 2017). I would also note, that the Federal Trade Commission has also banned undisclosed paid endorsements, making the practices illegal in United States (Ftc.gov, 2009).
If further pressured, I could report the case to HR and governing body of Advertising Standards Canada.
This is what I have in mind, distilled to 3 steps:
1. The employee should first speak to the manager about wrong and the unethical choice he is asked to make.
2. The employee should raise awareness about Ethical obligations and Responsibilities of I.T. Professionals.
In here, an employee could use the image of The Pyramid of Corporate Social Responsibility, which places Ethical responsibilities well above Economic profit.
Figure 1 – (Idarus, 2013)
3. If an employee is further forced to comply with an unethical choice, he/she should remain firmly on the side of the Code of Ethics and raise the issue with Chief Ethicist (if available) or human resources and senior management.
Gotterbarn, D., Miller, K., & Rogerson, S. (1997). Software engineering code of ethics. Communications of the ACM, 40(11), 110-118. [Accessed 1 Apr. 2017].
Tavani, H. (2013). ICT ethics bibliography 2012-2014: a select list of recent books. Ethics and Technology, 15(3), 243-247. doi:10.1007/s10676-013-9327-0 [Accessed 1 Apr. 2017].
Bowie, N. E. (2017). Business ethics: A Kantian perspective. Cambridge University Press. [Accessed 1 Apr. 2017].
Adstandards.com. (2017). ASC . [online] Available at: http://www.adstandards.com/en/ [Accessed 1 Apr. 2017].
Acm.org. (2017). Software Engineering Code of Ethics and Professional Practice — Association for Computing Machinery . [online] Available at: http://www.acm.org/about/se-code [Accessed 1 Apr. 2017].
Ftc.gov. (2009). FTC Publishes Final Guides Governing Endorsements, Testimonials | Federal Trade Commission. [online] Available at: https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/press-releases/2009/10/ftc-publishes-final-guides-governing-endorsements-testimonials [Accessed 1 Apr. 2017].
Idarus, (2013). Chapter 2 (marketing environment & ethics). [online] Slideshare.net. Available at: https://www.slideshare.net/amaieidarus/chapter-2-marketing-environment-ethics [Accessed 2 Apr. 2017].