The ethics of information transparency
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The paper investigates the ethics of information transparency (henceforth transparency). It argues that transparency is not an ethical principle in itself but a pro-ethical condition for enabling or impairing other ethical practices or principles. A new definition of transparency is offered in order to take into account the dynamics of information production and the differences between data and information. It is then argued that the proposed definition provides a better understanding of what sort of information should be disclosed and what sort of information should be used in order to implement and make effective the ethical practices and principles to which an organisation is committed. The concepts of “heterogeneous organisation” and “autonomous computational artefact” are further defined in order to clarify the ethical implications of the technology used in implementing information transparency. It is argued that explicit ethical designs, which describe how ethical principles are embedded into the practice of software design, would represent valuable information that could be disclosed by organisations in order to support their ethical standing.
KeywordsInformation transparency Semantic information Computer ethics Software design
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One of us, Turilli, wishes to thank the Director of the Centre for Ethics and Economics and Business for his kind invitation to present a previous version of this paper at the conference ICT, transparency and social responsibility, 7–9 October, 2007 Universidade Católica Portuguesa, Lisbon, Portugal. Turilli also wishes to thank all the conference participants, particularly Deborah Johnson, Jeroen van den Hoven and Antonino Vaccaro for their useful feedback. Special thanks are extended to the Oxford e-Science Research Centre for their financial and scientific support. We both express our gratitude to members of the IEG, University of Oxford, and of the GPI, University of Hertfordshire, for their critique of earlier versions of this work. We remain the only persons responsible for any of its shortcomings.
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