How Can It Be Wrong (When It Feels So Right)?: Ethical Decision Making and New Technology

How Can It Be Wrong (When It Feels So Right)?: Ethical Decision Making and New Technology

Joan M. McMahon, Ronnie Cohen
Copyright: © 2012 |Pages: 32
DOI: 10.4018/jte.2012010105
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In this study, 663 participants, both undergraduates and professionals, were asked to indicate their ethical judgment of, and behavioral intention regarding, 34 behaviors utilizing new technology. The authors found partial support for all hypotheses: as age increased behaviors were judged as being more unethical and participants reported that they were less likely to engage in the behaviors; professionals judged behaviors as being more unethical than students and reported they were less likely to engage in the behaviors than students; females judged behaviors as being more unethical than males and reported that they were less likely to engage in the behaviors than males; and participants indicated that they were more likely to engage in behaviors than would be suggested by their ethical judgment of those behaviors. The findings are important for developing codes of conduct, laws, and training programs that will lead to greater ethical behavior using new technology.
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New technology usage has created challenges regarding the application of ethical standards that were designed for the non-technological environment. The field of technoethics (Bunge, 1977) has emerged to meet these challenges. “The Law of Technoethics holds that rights and responsibilities assigned to technology and its creators increases as technological innovations increase their social impact” (Luppicini, 2009, p. 16). Much of the research regarding ethical behavior using new technology has focused on IT professionals who create, facilitate, maintain and monitor technology usage by others. Far fewer studies have taken a micro approach to ethical issues associated with technology usage, that is, how the individual utilizes new technology, which behaviors the individual end-user judges as being ethical or unethical, and whether the individual’s judgment is in keeping with his/her intention to engage in those behaviors.

The limited empirical research that has been done to date has mostly involved undergraduate subjects, and has addressed only a very few new technology usage issues, such as downloading commercial software or music without paying for it and plagiarism using the internet. The findings of those studies offer a reason for concern. Scanlon and Neumann (2002) found that while 89% of the undergraduates surveyed strongly or somewhat agreed that plagiarism is wrong, whether done conventionally or using new technology, 24.5% reported that they “sometimes” to “very frequently” engaged in internet-facilitated plagiarism; in addition, participants judged that plagiarism by others was more prevalent than their own. Thirty-eight percent of students in a 2002-2003 survey of U.S. colleges and universities reported that they had copied “a few sentences from sources on the Internet without citation” (McCabe, Butterfield, Trevino, 2004, p. 128). This was up from 12% reported in the 1999-2000 survey. Taylor (2004) reports that while 61% of 375 undergraduates surveyed said it is unethical to download music from the internet without paying for it, 42% reported that they had copied or burned CDs for others. Siegfried (2004) found that 66% of the undergraduates he surveyed thought it was “okay” to copy, rather than purchase, computer software; 54% reported that they had done so; 68% said they believed most people do so; and 78% said they believed most students do so.

The purpose of this study was to add to the nascent literature by taking the pulse of both undergraduate and non-undergraduate technology end-users in regards to their judgment of the ethicality of a wider variety of technology-related practices than has been previously studied, and to ascertain whether or not their judgments are reflected in their own personal behavioral intentions, a precursor to behavior itself.

The means of regulating new technology usage, while of critical importance, is beyond the scope of this paper. As human interaction using new technology increases, there is an increasing need to understand how individuals' ethical judgments affect their behaviors using that technology, in order to develop an effective regulatory framework.

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