This research paper deals with business ethics in relation to information technology. Development in technology has outpaced present laws and companies have used their influence and prowess to do things that are not acceptable in the public domain. Thus this paper discusses the ethical and unethical business behavior with respect to IT and how companies are adjusting to development of information technology.
Business organizations are involved with commercial activities with their clients. Business rivalry in the market has caused companies to use uncouth behavior to outdo the other thus the question of business ethics. In this paper i would like to discuss ethical behavior of companies in relation to information technology. Over the past decades information technology through communications gadgets like wireless technology has posed great danger to business survival. Workers have used business information inappropriately triggering different mechanism by companies to curb such behavior. This has also brought questions of privacy. Therefore companies have the duty to develop polices that are IT compliant while the government has to enact laws that protect and guide ethical issues.
Business Ethics and Information Technology
Ethics are conduct of individual within society that are widely accepted by the masses. Deviant behavior in the society is referred to as unethical such as theft and immorality. Business ethics constitute of business practices, policies and principles that are considered ethical. These are also considered as corporate social responsibility (Harbert, 2007).
Ethical behavior is considered reasonable behavior and the word ethic has different meanings depending on the situation and environment where people live. Reasonable behavior is inborn and compatible with human nature. However, the behavior that is accepted by the majority is ethical whilst the abhorred behavior is unethical. In the field of information technology ethical issues has emerged referred to as the ‘Ethic Information system’ because of technological advancement and security threats for companies and nationals (Harbert, 2007).
The information system tools can be use in two different ways. It can be used for good reasons or not depending on the company usage. Information technology professionals are in dilemma when dealing with how the information obtained can be used in either way. The ethic information system uses advanced technological equipments to obtain information that is sensitive or improper to be used in the work place. There has been fast development of technological infrastructure such as use of physical connection and wireless connection. The development of wireless technology has created numerous challenges for both users and targets alike (Kush & Kumar, 2005).
Business ethics in most companies deal with issues related to company information such as trade secrets, future plans and security. Companies document information concerned with work related issues such as employees relationship, employee use of company properties and tracking of marketing professionals. For all these to be done companies use the skill of information technology professionals and intelligence experts (Kirby, 2007).
Companies have a duty to develop ethical policies that are in line with business practice and company organization culture. These are usually developed by legal experts and company professionals specializing in privacy rights. The policies usually reflect what the company past experiences have been with regard to ethical behavior (Kirby, 2007).
The employee behavior within the company premises in relation to information handling is very crucial to all management. Employees are supposed to be responsible in keeping information secret and confidential or restricted to certain levels. For example, if the chief executive decided to have a meeting with his or her finance staff to discuss a sensitive matter with them such as a trade secret. will they be responsible to keep the meeting secret because it was specific to the company or not? For instance Jeremy Hart was a software engineer employed by Citadel Systems, Inc. (Citadel) as a leading software and database applications developer. His colleagues and supervisor considered him one of the brightest and most insightful employees working with database applications. For the past several years, he was a member of a research team designing a sophisticated new database management system. In the course of building and refining its database management tools, Citadel developed unique protocols to solve a variety of technical problems. These protocols were not widely known or easily observable by Citadel’s customers and competitors.
Similarly, another employee a software engineer who helped to design database management systems for one company and then was hired by another competitor firm. His first employer did not have him sign any legal documents that prevented him from using his research results outside the company. After he started working for the new employer, he worked on a very similar project and used his notes to guide and speed his project forward. In the end the two companies had very similar database management systems (Saunders 2006). These cases shows examples of how people deal with ethic issues. The question then is who is the guilty? is it the company failure to have guided policies or the software engineer who does not keep company secrets (Soukup, 1994; Saunders, 2006).
There are many ethical problems inside business organizations such as hacking and wrongful use. A hacker is an expert in computer science that is creative in use of information technology knowledge. The hacker can attack any website that does not have firewall or any protection system and steal information or damage the website. In addition, Ethical hacking is also called “penetration testing” and “intrusion testing” or “red teaming,” a term used when the U.S. government began hacking its own systems in the 1970s ( Coffin, 2003).
Kush & Kumar (2005) states that the current mobile networks composed of infrastructural networks and infrastructural less mobile networks are constantly under external and internal attacks. External attacks are either passive or active and have effect in degrading or damaging the message flow in the system. Internal attacks consists of compromised modes, inherent features and active external attacks that cause or deny access to communication flow. Several interferences are associated with the attacks that hackers use to interfere with communication systems (Begley, 1997).
Whereas wrongful use of information is considered as unethical. Several cases employees unethical behavior is common at work places which include among others shopping, gambling, and visiting illegal website. Therefore, it raises other questions of whether employees checking private email during work time is unethical or not. In addition, does bill payment during work time ethical or not? Some companies do not allow their employees use their network connection for such activities. They are also faced with the challenge of protecting their corporate and trade secret (Kirby, 2007).
Harbert (2007) states that companies have established monitoring system such as Surf Control PLC to monitor how the employees use the network. He illustrates that one company policy required the IT employee to monitor all employees who visited pornographic sites and report them to the management. One of the employee found a senior executive notorious for visiting such sites. He took the print out and forwarded to his senior managers. The result was that the executive who violated the policy was not fired instead he was promoted to senior position in a subsidiary company. This was traumatic to the IT employees who could not see how effective the decisions was. The matter was ethically contradictory with the company policy.
Other cases of which company policies have brought ethical challenges to IT professionals is due to the security and other threats in business. Several large companies have devised different methods to protect their trade secrets and get due advantage over their competitor, protect their reputation and market share. This has brought a thin difference between spying and guarding company information for which spying is one of the methods used by companies to get such information. For instance Dell Computers and HP Corporation have had court battle over HP Corporation role in sending spies to investigate their rivals plans. Walmart has embarked on surveillance operations to monitor employees and merchandise movement as well as investigative experts to weaken anti-Walmart groups. Other companies which have used unethical behavior in their business practice are Air Canada and Biovail, Fairfax and New York hedge (Kirby, 2007).
Some companies do not have security policies for their important information. Hence, the employees may be confused on how they will use the network. Other companies may have policies but ignore educating their employees’ uses until ethical violation occurs.
Business organizations have had several ethical problems within and outside their jurisdiction whereby the public is concerned with the motive behind. Kirby (2007) notes that corporate code of ethics have changed and become more restrictive, the principle and guidelines behind are eroded when organizations fight to win their ground. Business organization that have faced numerous information leakage such as Walmart have developed ways to limit continued leakage so that they cannot lose millions of shillings and clients confidence. In this regard they have employed top military intelligence, mostly retired to spearhead security measures of their businesses.
Other companies have secretly commissioned investigative experts to get information of other companies, they have stolen secret documents and send informants to other countries to obtain commercial secrets as well as scientific information fraudulently. Other ethical questions remain unresolved, among them privacy. For instance who owns electronic mail where there is conflicting legal guidelines. On the one hand, the Electronic Communication Privacy Act of 1986 prohibits access to mail transmitted over public telephone lines, just as post office correspondence is protected (Kirby, 2007).
On the other hand, courts have held that private organizations may look at e-mail within their own networks. Many companies argue that they do so similar to monitoring phone calls in order to improve customer service, investigate crime and prevent security breaches (Soukup, 1994).
The courts and legal making bodies have been outpaced by technological development such that the court process are unable to solve unethical issues arising from the use of technology. For instance, the use of radio frequency and identification technology which is able to take large data on physical, psychological and information has attacked the privacy of individuals including employees and customers. Their use have raised eyebrows from the public and companies adopting such technologies and are now faced with balancing of ethical issues and security issues (McVeigh, 2007).
Companies are required to come up with policies that articulate untouched areas in the law and make clear guide lines by which employees should abide in business practice. Policies usually define the responsibility and roles of each worker that makes them accountable for any breach of conduct otherwise when unethical issues arise there would be difficulty in addressing the incident. Apart from that company policymakers should educate their managers and workers as well on the chain of command when reporting unethical behavior of which whistle blowers are protected against reactions from victims. Although policies are developed by lawyers and other professionals, challenges in IT require that policymaker should involve the input of IT experts in order to make IT compliant polices (Harbert, 2007).
In addition, business organizations should establish guidelines for the company and employees. For example, the company should use peer-to-peer (P2P) network architectures and analyzes. This application of software encompasses a diverse set of applications. According to past studies, the applications examine peer-to-peer (P2P) network architectures and analyzes the behavior, threats, and countermeasures associated with prevalent P2P applications, instant messaging and file-swapping utilities. Several solutions are discussed although none is a panacea as network architectures, security policies, political climates, and employee freedoms differ greatly between organizations. It is suggested that companies that are investigating the implementation of any solution to control inappropriate P2P application usage on their network and should consider both investment in products and expertise (Thyer, 2003).
These ethical issues are more prevalent in nations that lack legal framework to protect ethical behavior in business organization. In the developing nation, the question of property rights is problem hence ethical dilemma among IT professionals will be wider.
Microcomputers are much less expensive and do not require special rooms or electrical requirements. Nor are specialized personnel required to operate the systems. However, the cost of securing this data represents a high percentage of the overall IT budget. Thus, businesses in developing nations may not appreciate the need for security. Given this lack of security awareness, there is the potential for large-scale unethical use of IT in developing countries. The current IT theft is very sophisticated and “cracking” such IT operations in developing nations will not be easy. The information rape could occur so quickly that it will be too late to stop it (Goeller, 1995).
Ethics is a crucial subject when dealing with busiess matters and public interest. Business ethics are accepttable behavior within the business organizations. It entails principles and guidelines that reflect good business practices. However there are cases of unethical behaviour comitted by companies and employees as well. Companies find themselves in dilemma when pursuing integrity and competiton in the market. Some have used unethical means to get information on how to overtake their competitors and other threats. Similary employees are konwn to steal company information and use company properties unethicaly. Concerns have been raiesd to deal with unethical behavior through company policies and legal gudelines.
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