Computer Ethics, Fall 2020

Mondays 5:30-7:30ish, Cuneo 210 and online

Class 1 Readings

Read the first three sections of Baase chapter 1 and at least the first section of chapter 4, especially:
    Video sharing in §1.2.1
    Cellphone case-study in §1.2.2
    What is intellectual property?: §4.1.1

Before class 2, finish reading chapter 1 and read the first three sections of chapter 4.

The main course notes are in the Notes Organized by Topic section on the main web page. Reading assignments, comments on the class discussion and occasional special notices are in these week-by-week notes.


There will be three papers. For the first paper, you will be given an opportunity to rewrite it.

Plagiarism rules: be sure ALL quotations are marked as such, and also cited.

When you write, be sure you organize your points clearly and address the question. Grammar and style count for MUCH less!

You will each participate in one or two "debates". I will publish a list of topics soon, and create a sign-up site. Topics will be in the form of declarative sentences; topics based on the examples above might be
  1. We need a strong DMCA takedown process to protect copyright holders
  2. Mass communications monitoring should be abolished; no government agency should be able to access even communications metadata without a finding of probable cause.
At the start of class on the designated day, you'll present either the for position or the against position. Your presentation should take 3 to 5 minutes. Someone else will then take the opposing position.

The catch is that you won't know which position you'll have until the actual start, so you'll have to think about both sides.

You may use notes. At the end of the debate the rest of the class will vote as to the winner; your goal should be to try to convince your classmates.

I have not yet made a final decision about exams.

Example: is file-sharing stealing, if nobody lost anything?

Some topics for discussion

1. Filesharing: is it stealing? If it is not, then what is it? If it is, why do people do it who would never steal anyone's physical possession?

2. The Apple App Store

To run an app on an iPhone, it pretty much has to be in the Apple App Store. Apple's stated reason for this is security, and they have indeed been extremely successful at keeping malware and spyware off of iPhones. But they charge 30% of an app's fees (special rules apply to continuing subscriptions, like Spotify, and no fee is charged to free apps that sell non-app merchandise, like Amazon).

Game vendor Epic, maker of Fortnite, just got itself kicked off the App Store for changing their rules on in-app purchases. They have filed antitrust litigation against Apple; this is clearly part of a planned battle.

What do you think?


And there has been weird collateral fallout: Apple ordered Wordpress, a free app, to create non-free tiers so Apple could get 30% of something. Then Apple backed off. Apple claimed Wordpress had agreed to make changes, but that seems false:

Also, the CEO of Epic Games had apparently asked weeks ago for a break from the 30% rule. Apple said no, setting the stage for the showdown. See also

3. Some schools are doing weird things with Covid. Albion College (Michigan) makes students install a real-time GPS tracker that is very poorly secured (maybe it is now fixed, maybe not). See Students who leave campus for any reason may be expelled. Oklahoma State uses their Wi-Fi system to track each students' use of each access point. They have cameras too, and card swipes, and also course-attendance records (

Do you have any rights in a pandemic? How do these approaches compare with the Apple/Google model, in which your app would record other phones that came within six feet, and log them only on the phone, and periodically you could check to see if any of those people came down with Covid19 (though you wouldn't get their names).

Overview of some of the issues we will discuss this semester:


Michael Eisner's June 2000 statement to Congress (edited, from Halbert & Ingulli 2004).