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An Ethical Perspective on Emerging Forms of Ubiquitous IT-Based Control

Abstract

The goal of this paper is to investigate the ethical implications of emerging forms of control that have developed along with the use of ubiquitous information technology (IT). Because it can be exerted at a distance, almost anytime and anywhere, IT-based control has become more subtle, indirect, and almost invisible, with many negative side effects. Yet the issues raised by this new form of control have rarely been interpreted, treated, and framed as ethical issues in business ethics literature. Thus, a more comprehensive inquiry rooted in ethical concerns is necessary to improve understanding of this more subtle form of control, its ethical consequences, and the way ethical considerations can be taken into consideration and acted on by management. This article addresses this goal with a qualitative, exploratory case study of a telecommunications company, in which salespeople have been equipped with ubiquitous technology. The findings specify the characteristics and consequences of ubiquitous IT-based control, thereby inviting a rethinking of the ethical issues related to the privacy, autonomy, human dignity, and health of salespeople. In particular, this article highlights four ethical issues raised by the use of ubiquitous IT at work: the ambivalence of this use of ubiquitous IT at work, the subtlety of the control exerted by ubiquitous IT, the invasiveness of ubiquitous IT, and the self-reinforcement of ubiquitous IT-based control. Such issues are not often taken into account, suggesting that ethical considerations fail to enter into managerial decision making. This study directly raises questions about the intentions, responsibilities, and divisions across different categories of organizational members who participate in such control systems. It also provides useful insights into employees’ perceptions and offers guidance to managers who want to apply a professional code of ethics to the uses of ubiquitous IT.

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Notes

  1. We modified the names of the company and the respondents to ensure anonymity.

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Correspondence to Aurélie Leclercq-Vandelannoitte.

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Leclercq-Vandelannoitte, A. An Ethical Perspective on Emerging Forms of Ubiquitous IT-Based Control. J Bus Ethics 142, 139–154 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-015-2708-z

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Keywords

  • Autonomy
  • Control
  • Ethics
  • Information technology
  • Monitoring, privacy
  • Stress
  • Ubiquitous technology