Denison professor discusses Internet ethics

As ubiquitous as the Internet has become for the millennial generation, it is easy for us to forget that it is a fairly new world ó and one that is complex, changing, and often dangerous.† Professor Joan Krone of Denison University came to Wooster Tuesday to talk to students about the strange new world of the Internet, and the questions about cyber ethics that come with it.

Kroneís talk was part of a math and computer science department Colloquium.

ìIn this day of cyber stalking and poorly written software and well-written spyware, we see a lot of challenges about what ought to be done in the way we behave on the Internet,” said Krone.

Krone explained that there are two major schools of thought on cyber ethics. There are those who believe that the ethics our society already uses are sufficient to cover any situation, and new technologies only demand we apply them in new ways, and there are those who hold that ìthere are new, unique ethical issues that could not have existed without technology.”

The main focus of Kroneís talk was to give some examples of some new ethical issues, and raise questions about ways in which they might be dealt with.

ìComputers are logically malleable,” said Krone, explaining one reason why new cyber ethics issues spring up so frequently. ìWhen we buy a computer device that can be connected to the Internet, it may end up doing things it couldnít do when you first bought it.”

Krone raised questions about online universities and online pharmacies ó and what ethical issues were raised by making education or prescription drugs available online.

Does an online university provide real educational experiences like a physical school? Krone asked some of the computer majors assembled how they would implement a system on a pharmacyís Web site to ensure that a person couldnít gain access to prescription drugs without a doctorís prescription.† She then asked what could be done if the pharmacy wasnít cooperating ó a question that, short of hacking their system, neither students nor Krone could answer.

The talk broadly ranged to also include radio tracking devices to store peoplesí medical information. ìOn the one hand we have people who say ëWhat a great idea, it saves lives,í” said Krone. ìOn the other hand, is it an invasion of privacy?”

Krone spent a good deal of time discussing virtual worlds like Second Life and the questions they raise about our identity and about creation.† Although in the real world thereís a lot of controversy about the creator, the creator of a virtual world is easy to find ó and easy to hold responsible for anything that goes on there.

Finally Krone moved on to questions about cultural relativism that arise from the global nature of the online community.† For example, Krone focused on some differing cultural values between the United States and China.

ìIn the United States one of the highest values is the freedom to explore,” said Krone. ìIn China itís just the opposite. One of the highest values is that people should be sheltered from certain things.”

Krone raised many questions about cyber ethics, but left it to the students to start finding answers.

ìDo we want to enforce ethical standards in cyberspace? Can we?” she asked. ìYou as technical people have a much better understanding than the people in Washington making the decisions.”