Ethics and Information Technology

, Volume 10, Issue 4, pp 233–242 | Cite as

Search engines and the public use of reason

  • Dag ElgesemEmail author


How should the policies of search engines and other information intermediaries be ethically evaluated? It is argued that Kant’s principles for the public use of reason are useful starting points for the formulation of criteria for such an evaluation. The suggestion is, furthermore, that a search engine can be seen to provide a testimony to the user concerning what information that is most relevant to her query. This suggestion is used as the basis for the development of a broadly Kantian account of a rational searcher. It is argued that the search engine companies are morally required to publish their information policies and act in accordance with them but given the threat of search engine spam they can have no obligation to publish the details of their algorithms.


bias information policy Kant reason search search engines testimony 


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Parts of this paper were presented at the workshop ‹Kant Revisited in Light of New Technology’, held at NTNU, Trondheim, on March 19 and 20, 2007, and at ETHICOMP2007 conference, held in Tokyo, March 27–29, 2007. I have benefited from the discussion and comments from the participants on both occasions. In particular, I am grateful to Charles Ess and Bjørn Myskja for their comments.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Information Science and Media StudiesUniversity of BergenBergenNorway

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