Computer Ethics, Fall 2022
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
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. (For some topics, eg those where opinions are
well entrenched, this is very difficult.)
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
- understanding some of the consequences of seeking technological
solutions for social problems
- Should we still use the word "stealing"
- Is it as bad as physical theft?
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?
Legally speaking, filesharing is copyright infringment.
A few special cases:
- Accidental background music in YouTube videos
- Music sampling: file-sharing involving (often) very small snippets
- Sci-Hub: sharing scientific papers in a way that does not interfere
with the author incentive created by copyright.
News item (1/18/2022): eyeo.com/eyeo-wins-copyright-court-case.
Note how hard a line Big Content is taking here; they were arguing that an
ad-blocker was copyright infringement.
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, got itself kicked off the App Store
for changing their rules on in-app purchases. They sued Apple for
antitrust violations; they mostly lost, although Apple may have
to end up opening up their payment system to "others".
What do you think?
3. Last fall, Apple proposed scanning iPhone photos that are uploaded to
iCloud for child pornography. Specifically, they will compare a special
hash of the photo with hashes of a database of known child pornography
from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
- Is that something that will make children safer?
- Is this the first step to loss of privacy? The 58th step?
- Will this lead to further erosion of privacy? Will iPhones five years
from now report their owners for illegal parking?
4. Texas passed HB 20, making it illegal for big social-media companies
to discriminate based on "viewpoint". A federal district court judge
promptly blocked the law. The Fifth Circuit recently unblocked it. There
are two issues here:
- Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act explicitly gives
websites the power to moderate content on their site, without liability
- Websites have a First Amendment right to moderate what they publish
The Fifth Circuit dropped the block in part for procedural reasons, but
it's still weird.
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).