Ethical Dilemma in the Case of Luke Vandenberg

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Technologists should behave in ways that enhance the well-being of all stakeholders. Technology is regarded as ethical if it helps people in reaching their fullest potential, improve the qualities of their lives, and give them substantial fulfilment. However, to deal with ethical dilemmas in information technology (IT), the solution through an analytical framework known as Ethical Decision Model (EDM) comes into play. EDM is used to analyse complex situations and provide optimal solutions that can be ethical and defended. Hence, EDM is important in analysing the legal, professional, employment, social, personal, and code of conduct dilemmas in the perspective of IT. The EDM can be built around the theories of ethical behaviour in analysing case studies of ethical dilemmas. The theories range from those of relativism, Kantianism, Utilitarianism, and social contract theory. Therefore, in this report there is a close examination of the ethical dilemma in the case of Luke Vandenberg and the related issues in regards to normative ethical theories in the given case study. The report also highlights the professional code of conduct that professionals like Luke are supposed to observe in the course of their duties and the extent to which Luke has lived to these expectations or failures. Also covered is the ethics in technology, the ethical technologist, the habits of effective technologist, ethical issues of the information age, the thinking machines, the common denominator, and the AI and the human potential. The various lessons learnt from the case analysis are summarised therein in a reflection mode.

2.0 Case Analysis

2.1 Legal Factors

Factor 1: Breach of Contract

Luke breaks the Australian laws that provide binding provisions by creating backups offsite without the express permission of his director during the development of the Altiora web portal project. Luke had committed himself by signing a contract with TT INTERACTIVE, thus being employed by the company and having gained substantial experience, he could have sought the permission of the director about implementing other back-up systems instead of taking it into his own hands.

Factor 2: Theft of Intellectual Property

By taking backups of his work off-site, Luke is committing theft of copyright of the nature of intellectual property. Thus, it may have been that he wanted to take the right decision by undertaking off site backups, but ignorance of the law does not get him off the hook.

Factor 3: Privacy

Luke infringes on the privacy policy of his former employer TT by sharing its work files of the web portal with the manager of the Tangential Company. During the taking of drinks with the manager, Luke vividly admits that he had the backups from TT and when he called to the office by the manager, he behaves unethically by exposing the private information of TT.

Factor 4: Ethical Code of Conduct

Luke compromises his integrity by taking the backup offsite on his hands, thereby watering down the ethical code of conduct guiding on how professionals should execute their functions in the course of their duties. Hence, he commits the breaches of contract and never owns up his mistakes thereby compromising his integrity.

2.2 Professional Factors

Factor 5: Contract Obligations

Luke in his breach of contractual obligations also commits a professional offense as provided by the code of conduct of the Australian Computer Society section H3.Luke compromises his trust by taking the backup offsite on his hands.

Factor 6: Infringement of Professional Confidentiality

Luke copies the intellectual property of TT which is his former employer without the express permission of the company, therefore, infringing on the confidential information of the company. The copying of the Altiora system project is a good example of a professional issue as well as a legal issue as provided in the code of conduct of the Australian Computer Society.

Factor 7: Backup Acknowledgement

Luke reveals to the project manager at Tangential Software Company to have stolen the work files of the web portal from TT, and which he is ready to share it with the new company’s project.

Factor 8: A sign of Theft

Luke feels uncomfortable sharing his stolen work from TT with the Tangential manager at his office in the process of being offered the lead role in overseeing the development of the project. But, surprisingly goes ahead to share the project profiles with his new employer to aid in the designing of the web portal, a project of Charleston Technical University.

The above factors are now discussed in the context of the normative ethical theories and the ethical code of conduct of the ICT professionals.

2.3 Employment and Social Factors

Factor 9: Work Experience

The work experience that Luke has gained from the design studio since he was in the final year in college to that from TT INTERACTIVE putting him at top notch in securing a job at Tangential Software, which is a rival studio to TT, and finally the opening of his own studio.

Factor 10: Project Outcomes

Despite the disparaging comments from his colleagues during the development of the new portal at the Altiora University, Luke achieves positive results as the new portal comes on-line. Additionally, at the TT no special recognition is given to the workers despite great efforts of delivering projects.

Factor 11: Long Working Hours

Luke is made to work for long hours at TT with minimal pay, with an assurance that the experience he is in need of is more worth than anything else. Thus, this makes him feel that he is under appreciated hence; he opts to look for another job at Tangential which he successfully gets.

Factor 12: Low Pay

Luke feels he is exploited by being paid the bare minimum and that the TT management does not care about it but rather their focus is on the project design and implementation. Hence, this justifies the reasons why he is ready to share the files of the web project of TT with his new employer, Tangential.

Factor 13: Sense of Dissatisfaction

Luke‘s classmates do not expect any positive outcome from the project of developing the university’s portal and instead they haul disparaging comments at him. But, he successfully delivers the online platform for the university.

2.4 Personal Factors

Factor 14: Act of Plagiarism

The decision by Luke to copy the Altiora web portal project is an act of plagiarism that is personal in nature. Thus, this is because Luke had personally interacted with the Altiora University environment and in such academic institutions, plagiarism is not tolerated.

Factor 15: Technology Background

Luke goes ahead to make off-site copies of the web portal of Altiora at TT INTERACTIVE and repeats the same at Tangential because he wanted to protect his job. According to him there is no reason for reinventing the wheel since he comes from the ICT background and therefore he can manipulate everything.

Factor 16: Peer Pressure

The influences of peer pressure are evident in the case of Luke as his boss at Tangential convinces him to make copies from the web portal project of TT INTERACTIVE. Therefore, this can be interpreted as a personal factor since the boss applied peer influence on Luke which causes him to copy the contents of the project.

2.5 Intrinsic Factors

Factor 14: Award of Multimedia Degree

Luke enrols for a multimedia degree after finishing high school and which he successfully completes after four years. The degree enables him to land an internship with TT and finally a bigger job with Tangential.

Factor 15: Team Leader

After spending one year in TT, Luke lands a job at Tangential where he becomes the team leader in due course. Thus, the motivation to copy the TT’s Altiora web portal project was fuelled by his desire of becoming a boss in Tangential.

Factor 16: Senior Project Manager

In Tangential, Luke feels that the new project ought to succeed for him to get ahead in the industry. Thus, this makes him to rise to the rank of a project manager due to his efforts and continues to enjoy a successful career.

Factor 17: Opening up of own Studio

Luke is very ambitious and wants to open his own studio in order to earn more money so that together with his family they can have a bigger home. Therefore, the experiences Luke gains from all his previous internships and employment helps him to open up his own studio which is a milestone for him.

2.6 Prioritisation

Factor                                                             Related Issue

1. Theft of Intellectual Property (legal)         Luke creates backups offsite without the express permission of TT Directors

2. Breach of contract (legal)                           Luke breaks the Australian laws that provide binding provisions by creating backups offsite.

3. Privacy (legal)                                            Luke shares the work files of the web portal with the manager of the Tangential Company.

4. Confidentiality (legal)                                Luke discusses the projects of TT with the new employer, Tangential Software.

5. Piracy (legal)                                              Luke uses the backup files and programs from TT in Tangential Software

6. Code of ethical conduct (legal)                  Luke compromises his integrity by taking the backup offsite on his hands

7. Contract Obligations (professional)           by breaching the contractual obligations, Luke also commits a professional offense

8. Infringement of Professional Confidentiality (professional)         Luke infringes on the confidential information of TT by copying its information

9. Backup Acknowledgement (professional) Luke acknowledges to have stolen the work files of the web portal from TT

10. A sign of theft (professional)                   Luke shares the project profiles with his new employer to aid in the designing of the web portal of a client

11. Work experience (Employment and Social)        Luke possess a wide work since he started internships while in college

12. Project outcomes (Employment and Social)        Luke achieves positive results as the new university portal comes on-line

13. Long working hours (Employment and Social)   Luke is made to work for long hours at TT with minimal pay

14. Low pay (Employment and Social)         Luke feels he is exploited by being paid the bare minimum by TT

15. Sense of dissatisfaction (Employment and Social)          the disparaging comments from fellow students about the Altiora project

16. Act of plagiarism (personal)                    Luke to copies the Altiora web portal project which constitutes act of plagiarism

17. Technology Background (personal)         Luke has gained diverse experience in the IT industry

18. Peer influence (personal)                         Luke is convinced by the Tangential boss to make copies from the web portal project of TT

19. Team leader (personal)                            Luke lands a job at Tangential where he becomes the team leader

20. Senior Project Manager (personal)          Luke rises to the rank of a project manager at Tangential

2.7 Decision

Luke could have taken the bold steps of informing the director that he had an idea of developing other systems related to the provision of backups off-site and should not have taken it into his own hands. Luke alters the initial work of TT to suit the project that they are designing for Charleston technical university. The guy, ignorant of the law convinces himself that the work belongs to him because he is the one who developed it, and therefore according to his thoughts, he has the right to use it which is contrary to the law. The copying of the Altiora system project is a good example of a professional issue as well as a legal issue that Luke needs to know at his level as a professional. Since all these actions by Luke constitute acts of legal and professional negligence, there is the need for TT INTERACTIVE to take legal actions against him for infringing on the company’s private information. There is also the need for the ACS to take up the matter since it touches on the integrity of the professional which is a basic requirement in the code of conduct. Luke also needs to remind himself of the provisions of the ACS code of professional conduct.

3.0 Discussion

3.1 The theory of Relativism

All the factors that we have discussed above confirm the normative ethical theory of Relativism. The theory holds that the moral prepositions are not objective reflections of universal moral truths but, a reflection of social, cultural, historical, and personal situations (Tuffley & Antonio, 2016). Thus, there is a requirement to determine the right actions on the basis of the case by case scenario depending on the individuals involved and the category of situational factors in play. There is need to remind individuals like Luke of the importance of taking right actions in the interests of the legal provisions and the outstanding code of conduct that guide professionals’ behaviours. The generally accepted moral and cultural principles make the conduct of the professionals in organizations; hence Luke needs to behave ethically by avoiding infringing on the privacy and legal terms of his former employer, TT in order to safeguard the legal and professional conduct required of him.

3.2 The Kantian Theory

The employment and social factors covered in the instances of Luke, the students’ behaviour and TT INTERACTIVE regard of Luke’s services in the company conform to the studies espoused in the Kantian Theory. Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), a renowned German philosopher argued that morality can analyse on the basis of standards of rationality called categorical imperatives (Tuffley & Antonio, 2016). Thus, this explains why such factors are ranked number two in the EDM framework. From the study by Kant, one can deduce that Luke proved competent in all the projects he was involved right from university to those of the Tangential Technology. With his experience and competence, he is able to secure a job at Tangential. Competence is a universally accepted principle in most organizations and its results do not have any harm others but build them. However, Luke’s action of stealing the intellectual property of TT to use in Tangent does not conform to the Utilitarian Theory. The theory holds that moral behaviour in one that creates happiness and produces the greatest good and least harm.

3.3 Social Contract Theory

The theory holds that every individual dwelling in any civilized society has expressly agreed to follow the basic moral rules that foster the associations of all persons. Secondly, the individual must also agree to establish a government that enforces the laws, hence a social contract (Tuffley & Antonio, 2016). Hence, Luke ought to keenly follow the ACS ethical code of conduct that falls under the legal factors. By agreeing to work with TT INTERACTIVE, Luke had agreed to be bound by the terms and conditions of the contract including the safeguarding of privacy, confidentiality, and the intellectual property of TT, which he fails to live up to. Hence, this shows the inability of the individual to follow the ethical conduct governing the technologists like him, thus contradicting the provisions of the social contract theory.

From the studies, a wise individual gains maximum results and happiness in life through peaceful coexistence with nature (Tuffley & Antonio, 2016).In regards to Luke, this principle does not favour him as he ignorant of the law so as to get ahead of his career. Luke does not seem to take time to make rational decisions and control his appetite of making money, and that why he rushes to copy all the content he obtained from TT in his current Tangential project. Thus, he excited by the project, keen to perform the best job and perhaps rise in the industry.

4.0 Conclusions on Analysis

In summary, the case analysis provides the basis for applying the Ethical Decision Model in analysing the ethical dilemmas that professionals find themselves in. Such issues range from legal, professional, employment and social, personal, and intrinsic factors. The variables are analysed in the context of the normative ethical theories like relativism and Kantian which underscores the code of conduct of IT professionals. Thus, the IT professionals just like other individuals ought to observe the provisions of the code which include honesty, integrity, professionalism, protecting the public interest, and professional development. Therefore, Luke has failed to live to some of these expectations through breach of his contractual duties on privacy and confidentiality by stealing the intellectual property of TT. Somehow, Luke exhibits some provisions of the code of conduct such as competence in his duties, which makes him rise in ranks. Technology is ethical if it helps people realise their full potential.

1.0 What I have Learned from this Course

From the module, I learned that an ethical technologist is an individual who practices technology ethics by observing habits that are related to taking responsibility with an open and clear mindset. Thus, this can be achieved by abiding by the ACS Code of Professional Conduct. Technology should help people realise their full human potential by improving their lives. Hence, this can be achieved through the use of intelligent machines in moral ways. Therefore, the introduction of smart AI has accelerated the rate at which technology offers solutions such as making individuals to self-actualize.

1.1 Technology Ethics

Technologists ought to take responsibility of using the technologies that they create by being fully aware of its impacts to the future generations. From Tuffley & Antonio (2016) study, I discovered that the ethical conduct of technologists can be summed into two simple prepositions; that individuals should be informed of the effect of technology and they should consent to that effect, and such technology must not harm the users. Al-Saggaf, Burmeister & Weckert (2015) add that professionals should behave in a manner that restores confidence among the employers. Thus, the handling of ethical dilemmas requires knowing the right course of action in situations where there are two or more competing interests. Hence, the Ethical Decision Model (EDM) comes in to solve the ethical dilemmas.

1.2 The Ethical Technologist

The risks of technology include theft of intellectual property which involves the copying and distribution of the digitised content such as books, music, videos, and photos without the permission of the owner. Tuffley & Antonio (2016) study points out that there is widespread use of pornography which involves the spread on internet of material related to sexual activities. Additionally, I discovered that there is the theft of identity which involves the misappropriation and fraudulent dissemination of an individual’s personal information. Moreover, the cultural differences that exist around the world, for example, cyber bullying may be acceptable in one culture and unacceptable in another. The ethical technologist is considered to competent if he or she develops and releases software that is not harmful to the community.

1.3 Habits of Effective Technologist

The ethical technologist ought to be proactive and responsible in undertaking projects to successful conclusions within the required period and budget. According to Tuffley & Antonio (2016), the technologist ought to have clear end in mind which means that the projects started must be completed clearly. I discovered that the ability to prioritise and fund those projects that are more important should be the core responsibility of an ethical technologist. They should practice a win-win mindset whereby everyone benefits within set budgets. They should keep an open mind by showing the clients of system development that they are listening to their requirements. They should learn to develop synergy around their work and aim at continuous improvement to perfect the projects they undertake.

1.4 ACS Code of Professional Conduct

The ACS contains six basic ethical values that members of the IT profession are supposed to observe in the course of their duties. According to Tuffley & Antonio (2016), the values include the primacy of the public interest which requires the technologist to put the public interests above those that are personal, sectional, and business related. The individuals should strive to enhance the quality of life of the clients that they serve (Singer, 2010). Also I discovered that the code requires technologists to be honest in the application of their skills and knowledge in designing clients’ products and services (Burmeister, 2013). Additionally, the conduct requires them to enhance their professional development and that of their staff through professionalism that is characterised with integrity and respect for other members.

1.5 Ethical Issues of the Information Age

The course enabled me to understand ethical issues, whereby technology is considered ethical if it is life-affirming.  Tuffley & Antonio (2016) argue that it should assist people achieve their full human potential and make lives better by allowing individuals to accomplish processes in the most convenient and affordable way. Hence, ethical technology should pave way for self-actualization. Thus, this requires the ethical technologists to create technology that help individuals achieve creativity. They should consider the interests of the present and future generations of persons and the general environmental preservation. Unethical technology dehumanises individuals and enslaves persons, forcing them to engage in practices that reduces them to lower levels. Therefore, this creates problems for the future generations and can create adverse effects on the environment.

1.6 Thinking Machines

Robots have become very common in the manufacturing sectors and other economies. The intelligent machines have taken over numerous jobs to date. Thus, I learned that there is need to develop the right thinking skills among the future workers. They ought to synthesis the mind by taking the creative mind to the next level by integrating the different ideas to form projects that are useful and interesting. Thus, individuals need think about the big picture of skills that globally connect the world. They should strive to master the new media through creative communication skills since the future will be full of new technologies (Tuffley & Antonio, 2016). Therefore, they ought to know how to deal with large sets of data so as to be competent in the future.

1.7 The Common Denominator

Morality in different cultures has a common base that is deeply rooted in human nature. Tuffley & Antonio (2016) assert that the ethical technologists should take reasonable care in their dealings with others so as to reduce incidences of harm. I now understand that the concept underlies the virtues of nurturance, gentleness, kindness, truthfulness, openness and fairness with other people. They ought to practice liberty and shun oppression, thus giving rise to the sense of freedom and autonomy. The persons also need to loyal which yields patriotism and escape betrayal of others. Individuals should also accept the existence of the ruling authority and avoid subversion. There is also the need to maintain the sanctity of issues by avoiding harm and doing what is right.

1.8 AI and the Human Potential

The ethical technologist should ensure that proper safeguards are established within the AL. From the Tuffley & Antonio (2016) claim, I understood that the purpose of technology is to help in solving problems by offering tools that enable individuals express themselves. The advent of smart AI will accelerate the rate at which technology offers solution such as the potential of helping individuals to self-actualize. Abraham Maslow described ways to self-actualize through exploiting life fully, vividly, and selflessly. Self-actualized people are those ones that have consciously evaluated the risks and gotten out of their comfort zones to exploit opportunities. The persons have allowed their true self to emerge and they do listen to their own tastes, make use of intelligence, honest with self and they know themselves.

5.0 References

Al-Saggaf, Y., Burmeister, O., &Weckert, J. (2015). Reasons behind unethical behaviour in the Australian ICT workplace: An empirical investigation. Journal of Information, Communication and Ethics in Society, 13(3/4), 235-255.

Burmeister, O. K. (2013). Achieving the goal of a global computing code of ethics through an international-localisation hybrid. Ethical Space, 10(4), 25-32.

Singer, P. W. (2010). The ethics of killer applications: Why is it so hard to talk about morality when it comes to new military technology?. Journal of military ethics, 9(4), 299-312.

Tuffley, D., & Antonio, A. (2016).Ethics in the information age. AQ-Australian Quarterly, 87(1), 19.

September 11, 2023

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