, Volume 51, Issue 3, pp 301-312

Ethics in Information Technology and Software Use

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Abstract

The emerging concern about software piracy and illegal or unauthorized use of information technology and software has been evident in the media and open literature for the last few years. In the course of conducting their academic assignments, the authors began to compare observations from classroom experiences related to ethics in the use of software and information technology and systems. Qualitatively and anecdotally, it appeared that many if not most, students had misconceptions about what represented ethical and unethical behaviors in these realms. Clearly, one can argue that if college students are uncertain about what constitutes appropriate and inappropriate behavior then this uncertainty will be carried forward into their workplaces upon graduation. Furthermore, if their workplaces don't provide ethics training as a component of a new employee orientation program, one can project a potential for unintentional violations and infringements of copyrights and law in the field. This study was conducted among graduate and undergraduate students to gain insight into their attitudes, perceptions and understanding of some of the relevant ethics issues. A questionnaire of 11 statements was employed that described ubiquitous but most likely unethical (or surely dubious) behaviors in the prevailing business and academic environments. Each respondent was asked to evaluate each statement twice (once for “self” and once for “colleague”) on a five-option highly ethical (5) to neutral (3) to highly unethical (1) scale. The statements were worded such that lower instrument score was associated with higher ethical responses. The questionnaire's two-part structure was designed to solicit honest answers. The encouraging learning from this study was that the overall sample and its various sub-samples did not consider any of the eleven behaviors to be “ethical” or “highly ethical.” It was also encouraging to note that the overall sample and all sub-samples considered “highly unethical” those behaviors associated with personal privacy or property or outright theft. This indicated that moral judgment and probity prevail. The discouraging learning was that behaviors associated with the use of enterprise property were viewed as “neutral” i.e., neither “ethical” nor “unethical.” These findings suggested confusion and lack of clarity and definition around workplace deportment as it regards ethics in software and information technology use. The current study suggests that additional research needs to be conducted to define and clarify the issues, which in turn can form the basis for programs to rectify or at least ameliorate the situation.