Computer Ethics PHI3626 Chapter 7

Computer Ethics 3rd Edition by Deborah G. Johnson

These are the questions from the book with my answers, which are what I understood from studying the information in this book.

Chapter 7 Questions

  1. Identify and describe the four different meanings of responsibility.

    My Answer: (1) Role Responsibility: Here responsibility is interchangeable with duty and refers to what individuals are expected to do in virtue of being an employee, a parent, a citizen, a friend, a member of an occupation Ė lawyer, doctor, police officer, and so on.

    (2) Causal Responsibility: Sometime when we say that an individual is responsible for an untoward event, we mean that the individual did something (or fail to do something) that caused the untoward event. The person is responsible here simply in the sense of being the cause.

    (3) Blameworthiness: Blameworthiness is generally connected to doing something wrong or being at fault. That is, the attribution of responsibility is made on the basis of a judgment that a person did something wrong and his or her wrong-doing led to an untoward event or circumstance. Individuals are often considered blameworthy when they fail to fulfill a role-responsibility. The person is responsible here simply in the sense of being the cause.

    (4) Liability: Liability is most often used to refer to the way certain situations are treated legally. To be legally liable is to be the person who, according to law, must pay damages or compensate when certain events occur.

  2. Does the categorical imperative prohibit the selling of software? Explain.

    My Answer: No. There is nothing inherently wrong with selling computer software, or anything else for that matter. It all depends on how it is done. A salesperson has a duty both to be honest and not to coerce.

    The categorical imperative entreats us never to treat a person merely as a means but always as an end in him- or herself. The categorical imperative does not exactly prohibit us from using others as means to our ends; rather, it specifies that we never treat a person merely as a means. The merely means that we are constrained in how we use others. We must always recognize the others as an end- a being with needs, desires, their own plans, and the ability to make their own decisions.

  3. Give examples (hypothetical or real) of dishonesty in selling software.

    My Answer: Misrepresenting what the software does.

  4. Give examples (hypothetical or real) of coercive practices in selling software.

    My Answer: Holding a gun to customers head, forcing them to buy the software.

  5. Explain Prince's argument for treating mass-market software as a product and the sale of customized software as provision of service.

    My Answer: A customer can go to a computer store and buy a mass-marketed software package. The software is not supposed to be modified. It may be designed to give the user options, but the user is not expected or allowed to change the underlying code making the software do what it does.

    A person (or company) can hire a person (or company) to design and produce a computer system specifically for his or her use. The system will be designed and made to do precisely what the customer specifies, to meet the customer's special needs.

    A person ( or company) can buy a software system and hire someone (or a company) to modify it to fit his or her special needs and circumstances.

    Prince suggested that we treat mass-marketed software as we do products, and treat customized software as we do provision of a service. The mixed case should be treated as mixed. If there is a defect in the mass-marketed part, product law should be brought to bear; if an error is made in the process of modification, law dealing with services should be brought to bear.

    If software is treated as a product, then strict liability can be imposed, and that means liability without fault. In other words, software producers can be sued for errors or malfunctions in software even when they had no reasonable way of know about them or being able to prevent them. Prince argued that strict liability makes sense for canned software but not for customized software.

  6. How is the user of strict liability ever justified?

    My Answer: There are three factors that justify the imposition of strict liability. Each has to do with the role or position of a product. First, to fall within the scope of strict liability under the UCC, a thing must be placed in the stream of commerce. This leads to a justification of strict liability on several counts.

    First, since the producer has placed the thing in the stream of commerce in order to earn profit, he or she should be the one that bears the risk of loss or injury. Since the producer has placed the thing in the stream of commerce, the producer has invited the public to use the product and implicit in the invitation must be an assurance that the product is safe.

    Second, the producer is in a better position that anyone else to anticipate and control the risks in the product. Because the producer is in the best position to control the risks, the imposition of strict liability can have a position effect. Holding producers strictly liable gives them a powerful incentive to be careful about what they put into the stream of commerce. If their products are not reasonable safe, they will be held liable.

    Finally, the producer is in the best position to spread the cost of injury over all buyers by building it into the cost of the product. If some products have inherent risks, then the cost of the risk can be distributed among those who benefit from having the product on the market. In other words, we make the producer pay for injuries from use of the product, knowing that he or she will recover this cost in the price of the product. Instead of the burden being born by those who are injured, it is spread to all those who buy the product. When you pay for a product, you implicitly pay for some insurance. If you incur damages from using the product, you can sue the producer and, if you win the suit, the producer will be able to compensate you, using profits from the price of the product.

    These 3 considerations demonstrate the strict liability makes good sense when it imposes liability on those who make products and put them in the stream of commerce. It makes sense because it imposes liability on those who are in the best position to minimize the risk and distribute costs.

  7. What is negligence? Why is it difficult to show that a software producer has been negligent?

    My Answer: In general, negligence can be understood to be a failure to do something that a reasonable and prudent person would have done. In common law, it is assumed that individuals who engage in certain activities owe a duty of care; negligence is a failure to fulfill that duty.

    Negligence presumes a standard of behavior that can reasonably be expected of an individual engaged in a particular activity. Negligence is often used to describe the blameworthy behavior of members of professional groups. This is so because members of professional groups are understood to have role-responsibilities (duties) and members who fail to adequately perform one of those duties are considered derelict. Thus, software engineers, for example, have a responsibility to design software that doesnít crash under routing conditions of use.

    What counts as adequate testing of customized software is, for example, a function of what is technically feasible, what is reasonable to demand or expect, what the costs will be of achieving a certain level of reliability, and so on. This means that it is often not a small matter to determine when a software engineer has been negligent.

  8. How did time come into play in responsibility for the Y2K problem?

    My Answer: The time factor comes into play because the original inventors of computers donít seem to have done anything worthy of blame. At the time, they had no idea of the extent to which computers would come to be used. They were concerned with conserving space and their initial calculation seems reasonable. In other words, it would be hard to show that they were negligent in the decisions they made.

    On the other hand, fault and blame seem to lie with computer professionals who saw that problem but did nothing until it was getting quite late. Year after year, as space in computers became larger and larger, as cost became less and less of a factor, and as the use of computers became more and more prevalent, why wasnít a change made in the date field? The change was eventually made, but why did it take so long? If we say that computer professional had a duty to speak out, at least, to pressure computer manufacturers to change the design of computers long before they did, then an interesting and difficult issue arises. On the one hand, we are saying that many computer professionals Ė those that were aware of the problem- were derelict in their duty; they were negligent. On the other hand, it is difficult to specify when they became derelict. When exactly did the situation switch from being one of reasonable calculations (and reasonable acceptance of the calculation) to one of dereliction of duty?

  9. What is the Myth of Amoral Computer Programming and Information Processing?

    My Answer: This is a tendency to blame computers for problems that arise Ė"it's the computerís fault," "It's a computer error" Ė and, then, since computers donít or canít bear moral responsibility, to dismiss the problem. De George is quick to point out that computer donít make mistakes; the errors are the results of human mistakes in the writing of the programs or entering the data.

  10. How do computers diffuse accountability?

    My Answer: The most powerful factors contributing to diffusion of responsibility are

    (1) The scale and complexity of some computer systems,

    (2) The "many hands" involved in developing, distribution, and using them, and

    (3) The way in which computer systems sometimes mediate human decision making.

  11. What is the legal liability of an ISP according to recent court decisions?

    My Answer: Section 230 specifies that "No provider of user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider." This policy has become known as the "Good Samaritan" immunity for ISPs.

    ISPs are encouraged to monitor or filer, but they are not liable for the content of electronic forums within the service domain. ISPs are encouraged to monitor or filer, but they are not liable for the content of electronic forums within the service domain.

  12. What did Bungle do wrong (is Scenario 7.1) according to the author?

    My Answer: Bungle did 2 things wrong:

    (1) He exposed participants to pornography and violence without giving them a chance to avoid it, and

    (2) He violated an implicit rule of the game.


These questions and the chapter conclusion come from the book "Computer Ethics" 3rd edition by Deborah G. Johnson. The conclusion and questions come from this book, but the answers are what m3cats found in the text of that book. The purpose of this duplication is for a study guide for PHI3626a at UCF during the spring of 2003.

Computer Ethics PHI3626 Chapter 8

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