The top 7 ethical dilemmas reported by IT in 2016

Last year gave us all a lot to digest, and moving forward it is important to hold a microscope to our wrongdoings to avoid such problems in the future. Scroll down to read about the most alarming instances the tech sector has witnessed in 2016, or view the slideshow:

1. Girl kills herself taking drug that website recommended

A website was built that asked questions and then recommended a drug for treatment. The clients’ requirements asked that the website always recommend their drug (unless you were allergic or already taking it). The programmer that built the website just followed instructions, but Bill Sourour blogged that this is “the code I’m still ashamed of” because he learned of a girl that killed herself after taking the drug as recommended. One of the side effects was depression and/or suicidal thoughts.
IT Professionals should reconsider just doing as they are told. If you want to think about this some more, see my post.

2. VW emissions cheating scandal

When Volkswagen used software to give false results on emissions tests, basically hacking the test to show a pass when it would really be a fail under normal conditions, it betrayed everyone’s trust of software. Now there are calls to make a proprietary code of this kind transparent for review by others. IT professionals should always refuse to implement code that is meant to mislead, and should always volunteer their code for others to inspect. Such practices would avoid incidents like this one.

3. Asked to lose files needed in investigation

When backup files were needed to find out what happened in an IT investigation, a backup and restore specialist was asked by those who were being investigated to say those files were corrupt/unavailable. He demurred, as any IT professional should.

If you want to think about the responsibilities of our data custodians some more, see my blog.

4. Legal firm bills two clients for same elapsed time

An IT professional was asked to make the time tracking software for a firm of lawyers. They requested it to be built so that starting a second timer should not stop the time being totalled on any currently running one. He felt a “twinge of guilt” because he felt that billing two clients for the same elapsed time wasn’t right, but it was his job to listen to his clients.

If you have ever felt a “twinge of guilt”, you have an ethical dilemma. Check out my blog: How to handle an ethical dilemma.

5. Database lists crime of being gay

Jason worked for the US Navy creating a database that would allow Military Prosecutors to prosecute Officers for the “crime” of being gay. “Homosexual Marriage” was listed as an offense alongside Assault and Murder. He was glad the rules were repealed before the production date.

I blogged about how IT must not discriminate.

6. Underdeveloped countries’ copyright

Aown Mohammad reported problems are worse in countries where no cyber or copyright laws exist so “one can do anything in technology without being caught”. The law does not always enforce fairness. IT Professionals know an action is not always ethical just because the law allows it.

If you want more thoughts about copyright, read my blog.

7. Ryerson Students predict ethics problems with Autonomous Vehicles (AV)

As part of a contest, Ryerson, students submitted a paper that included ethical considerations. Should an AV run into a ditch and endanger the passengers or endanger pedestrians in a crosswalk? How do we program the vehicle to know if the passengers or the pedestrians should be the priority?

I am very encouraged by the awareness of this new generation. See their whole paper titled “A bump in the road”.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada
Donna Lindskog
Donna Lindskog
Donna Lindskog is an Information Systems Professional (retired) and has her Masters degree in Computer Science from the University of Regina. She has worked in the IT industry since 1978. Most of those years were at SaskTel where she progressed from Programmer, to Business Analyst, to Manager. At one point she had over 48 IT positions reporting to her and she has experience outside of IT managing Engineers. As a Relationship Manager, Donna worked with executive to define the IT Principles so departmental roles were defined. As the Resource Manager in the Corporate Program/Project Management Office, she introduced processes to get resources for corporate priorities. In 2003 she was given the YWCA Woman of Distinction Award in Technology.

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