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Theoretical Perspective of Utilitarianism

Discuss about the Ethical Theory and Technology Ethics.

The chief aim of the following essay is to identify and understand the ethical issues from the case study named “Maker of Smartphone surveillance app fined avoids jail time” that has dealt with the issue of surveillance, which is a sub-issue of privacy. This individual purpose would be accompanied by an in-depth analysis of the ethical issues related with ICT identified within the chosen article. Furthermore, right after the evaluation, the essay would concentrate in preparing a fruitful recommendation considering the particular ethical dilemma identified within the case study.

From the considered case study, it has been understood that the alleged individual Hammad Akbar who designed the innovative mobile application, named StealthGenie has been penalized and ordered to pay $US500, 000 as fine (smh.com.au, 2017). The case study implies that instead of designing an innovative as well as relevant mobile application for surveillance, the software engineer had been fined due to breaking a US law related to privacy. It is initially understood from the news article that the alleged mobile application designed and sold by Hammad Akbar is an act of ICT ethical offense as per the fact that the application has been capable of allowing thousands of users to monitor any single act of their target’s phones (smh.com.au, 2017). If the entire context can be reviewed following the theoretical perspective of Utilitarianism, the intended act of StealthGenie is both ethically wrong and right. Prior to justify this statement, it should be elaborated that the concept of Utilitarianism says that morality of an action depends on its effect or result (Arntzenius, 2014). More precisely, Utilitarianism believes that an action can be called relevant and best only when it can maximize the amount of Utility (Sheskin & Baumard, 2016).

In accordance with the perspective of Utilitarianism, the case of Akbar can be justified in two specific ways. One is, the design and selling of StealthGenie is morally right considering its usefulness for tracking little children’s or elderly and mentally disabled individual’s activity. The second or the contradictory one is, the effect of the application is morally wrong when it comes to mind that the app can be misused by criminal groups or by those individuals who seek revenge from others. On the other hand, if the entire scenario can be analyzed from the theoretical perspective of Deontology, it can be said that the invention of the design of StealthGenie and thereafter its selling does not fall under any ethical duty. It is to consider in this context that ethically it is not a duty to monitor or record activities of other person as it highly violates individual’s privacy concerns (Wright et al., 2014). Henceforth, such act of surveillance is considered as a potential issue of privacy, which is illegal at the same time. As per Saja (2014), the theoretical underpinning of Deontology focuses on the relationship between duty and morality. More specifically, deontological theory strongly believes that morality of a situation should be justified by the actions, which have escalated the situation (Cline, 2014).

Theoretical Perspective of Deontology

Deontological perception also states that there are several premises on which an individual is forbidden to perform any action (Grant et al., 2016). Such point of view has been formulated by the deontological thought that says there are numerous choices, which are morally forbidden instead of the matter that those choices are potential in bringing fruitful consequences. This particular opinion is considerable in the context of the selected case study. It should be regarded that the software application designed and sold by Akbar violates the very ground of pluralistic deontology that is duty of non-maleficence. This ground states that people are obligated to restrict themselves from harming others (Cline, 2014). Instead of the fact that the application is helpful for detecting acts of a criminal or monitor activities of little children or elderly people, StealthGenie strongly violates the ICT ethical norm by harming other’s privacy. However, needless to say in this respect that the apology made by Akbar is definitely an act or duty of reparation as he agreed to pay for what he did unintentionally.   

At the same side, another deontological theory named Natural rights should also be prioritized with high interest. After identifying the potential capability of Akbar made software application that is to monitor entire activities of a target individual through his/her phone, it is probably confusing that whether privacy of criminal individuals or the elderly and concerned ones could be violated or not. According to the deontological theory of Natural Rights, human individuals possess those rights, which are inherent within the natural ethics. According to Wright et al., (2014), privacy is considered as one of the major rights of an individual. Therefore, a fair consideration about all of these point of views implicate that the allegation against the mobile app named StealthGenie is justifiable as this surveillance program contents highly disturbing potentials against privacy.

Nevertheless, the entire scenario can also be elaborated from the theoretical standpoint of virtue ethics and contracts, which have also become major piece of ICT ethical concerns. However, the case can be seen from the viewpoint of Aristotle, who had indicated that virtual traits chiefly accomplish human needs and happiness (Van Hooft, 2014). In accordance with this viewpoint, the Hammad Akbar’s invention of StealthGenie could be considered as virtuous as it has shown its capability in satisfying several individuals to keep track of their targets’ activities. In contrary, it should also be kept in mind that vices are the opposites of virtue and keeping track of other’s private work is an act of vice (Yu, 2013). Therefore, according to this point of view, the considered case study could not be contemplated as an act of virtue, instead of the fact that the use of the design has made several people happy and served their needs. It is understandable that the case is predominantly an act of vice.

Theoretical Perspective of Virtue Ethics and Contracts

Nonetheless, in this respect the conceptual standpoint of the contract based social contract theory could be considered with high priority. Based on Fried (2015), the contract based social contract theory implies that every individual has the right to act in the way that satisfy their natural desires and should not prioritize other’s aversions. However, under the contract theory that is right-based an ideal society is that where no individual can act against the rules or no person is above the rules (Fried, 2015). Thus, if the considered case could be reviewed from this elaborated standpoint, then two contradictory views can be acquired. The first is, Akbar’s creation of StealthGenie is acceptable and not ethically wrong as it has satisfied the creator’s own natural desire. On the contrary, the act of making this application is morally wrong as it has violated the social rule of not disturbing an individual’s privacy.

Therefore, a handful of aspects are understandable from the above evaluation, which are – the creation of StealthGenie had not been an intended act of ethical violation though the application is potentially capable for surveillance, which is a mighty issue of privacy. Through the theoretical standpoint of Utilitarianism, the surveillance application is both morally wrong as the application can be highly misused by criminal minds (Grant et al., 2016). On the other hand, based on deontological review the act of creating the application has strongly breeched the ground called duty of non-maleficence. Most importantly, the act is not ethically justifiable as it is considered as an act of vice for harming the privacy concerns of others. Therefore, it can be recommended that in future, if anyone will wish to create a surveillance software application like StealthGenie, the person should consider creating it for the use of government. Most importantly, in future prior to create such application, individuals should anticipate the consequence of the application and evaluate whether the usefulness of the application is harming any of the ICT ethical aspects or not (Saja, 2014).

Henceforth, it is to suggest that individuals should not create anything related to information technology that violates privacy, intellectual property, accuracy and accessibility – the four ethical pillars of ICT.

References

Arntzenius, F. (2014). Utilitarianism, decision theory and eternity. Philosophical Perspectives, 28(1), 31-58.

Cline, A. (2014). Deontology and Ethics: What is Deontology. Deontological Ethics.

Fried, C. (2015). Contract as promise: A theory of contractual obligation. Oxford University Press, USA.

Grant, P., Arjoon, S., & McGhee, P. (2016). Reconciling Ethical Theory and Practice: Toward Developing a Business Ethics Pedagogical Model. Business and Professional Ethics Journal.

Saja, K. (2014). Developing Deontology. New Essays in Ethical Theory. The Philosophical Quarterly, 64(254), 200-202.

Sheskin, M., & Baumard, N. (2016). Switching away from utilitarianism: The limited role of utility calculations in moral judgment. PloS one, 11(8), e0160084.

Van Hooft, S. (2014). Understanding virtue ethics. Routledge.

Wright, D., Finn, R., Gellert, R., Gutwirth, S., Schütz, P., Friedewald, M., ... & Mordini, E. (2014). Ethical dilemma scenarios and emerging technologies. Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 87, 325-336.

Yu, J. (2013). The ethics of Confucius and Aristotle: Mirrors of virtue (Vol. 7). Routledge.

Zapotosky, M. (2017). StealthGenie maker fined for 'stalker' app. The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 12 January 2017, from https://www.smh.com.au/digital-life/smartphone-apps/maker-of-smartphone-surveillance-app-fined-avoids-jail-time-20141126-11upqs.html

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