Computer Ethics, Spring 2018
Comm 013, 4:15-6:45 Thursdays
Week 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.
A couple questions
1. There are machine-learning systems used by the police and the judicial
system to predict risk of future criminal behavior. How accurate should
these be? What do we do if they are not accurate? What should we do if the
predictions appear to be improperly correlated with the suspect's race? See
Mortgage-lending firms have for years used machine-learning credit-scoring
systems that often have hidden biases, but have largely gotten away with it
on the grounds that the biases are not "intentional".
2. Who is Anna-Senpai? Do any of you play Minecraft? In September 2016, the
krebsonsecurity.com blog was
forced off the Internet for four days due to a 0.6 Tbit/sec [!] DDoS attack.
Krebs had recently written about an Israeli "booter" firm vDOS; just before
the attack its two founders were arrested. Simple retaliation? The Krebs
attack used the "Mirai" botnet; vDOS used the competing Qbot. There's money
to be made in selling booter services, but apparently the biggest customers
are operators of Minecraft servers, who want to knock other
Minecraft servers offline, and then steal their customers. Anna-Senpai is
the codename of the author of the Mirai botnet; Brian Krebs discusses this
person's likely real identity in who-is-anna-senpai-the-mirai-worm-author/.
- What about companies who damage the online presence of competitors?
- What about DDoS protection companies who launch DDoS
attacks and then try to sell their services?
- What about Internet-of-Things manufacturers who release devices with
such weak security that they are easily conscripted into the vast Mirai
and Qbot 'bot armies?
- What about bcp38?
Should ISPs be required to follow this?
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
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.
- We need a strong DMCA takedown process to protect copyright holders
- Mass communications monitoring should be abolished; no government
agency should be able to access even communications metadata without a
finding of probable cause.
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.
We will not have exams.
Example: is file-sharing stealing, if
nobody lost anything?
- understanding traditional ethical theories in the context of computing
- understanding legal theories of computing & information
- understanding some of the social consequences of computing technology
- Should we still use the word "stealing"
- Is it as bad as physical theft?
Overview of some of the issues we will discuss this semester:
- copyright (ch 4)
- whether there is such a thing as "intellectual property"
- DMCA: Digital Millennium Copyright Act
- privacy (ch 2)
- matching / fraud prevention
- personal profiles
- web tracking
- from employers
- from copyright holders (RIAA lawsuits, ISP actions)
- per-use content management
- software patents (ch
- what is the purpose of
software patents? To enforce ownership rights, or to improve
- computer crime
- software licensing
- legal issues regarding "click" contracts
- trust and the web
- security: phishing, certificates, etc
- antitrust issues
- professional issues
- responsibilities and liabilities
- talking to your supervisor
Michael Eisner's June
2000 statement to Congress (edited, from Halbert & Ingulli 2004).