Technology Innovation and the Policy Vacuum: A Call for Ethics, Norms, and Laws to Fill the Void

Technology Innovation and the Policy Vacuum: A Call for Ethics, Norms, and Laws to Fill the Void

L. A. Clark (Middle Tennessee State University, USA), D. L. Jones (Auburn University, USA) and W. J. Clark (Middle Tennessee State University, USA)
Copyright: © 2012 |Pages: 13
DOI: 10.4018/jte.2012010101
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New technologies and innovation open the door to exciting products and practices. As companies explore the possibilities of what can be, they often fail to consider what should be. Advancement often occurs rapidly and legal and policy guidance lags behind leaving a void of clear direction. Companies often interpret this void as giving permission to proceed with the new technology or practice. In some situations, strong customer or public reaction indicates that the technology or practice crosses the line of what is acceptable. This paper explores how the most innovative firms are navigating through an inconsistent, even conflicting, ethical and legal global landscape and calls for the intentional identification of relevant social norms and development of laws to fill the policy vacuum.
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The current age of information is an exciting era of continuous technological advancement limited only by the ability of humans to absorb and use the information (Biocca, 2000). Many firms seek a competitive advantage from this rapid innovation (Lengnick-Hall, 1992) introducing new products and practices into the market without much reflection about the impact of such advances on society. Rapid technological advances also outpace the ability of legal systems to establish guidelines as to whether certain technological advancements are allowed (Moses, 2007). James Moor (2005) labeled this void of legal or expressed policy direction a policy vacuum.

Many companies seem to interpret the existence of a policy vacuum as providing carte blanch permission for the practice or technology and launch their initiatives without much deliberation (, 2011). Public outrage or strong customer disapproval is a signal that a firm’s new practice or technology has crossed some line of what is acceptable. Facebook experienced user disapproval with the launching of the Beacon Project and mostly recently when announcing the release of users’ names and cell phone numbers to third party vendors (, 2011; Gurses, Rizk, & Gunther, 2008). Apple also experienced global backlash when two researchers discovered tracking software in the Apple iPhones that logged where the iPhone traveled (Arthur, 2011). Following the Apple discovery, it was revealed that Microsoft tracks the location of laptops, Smart Phones, and other mobile devices (McCullagh, 2011).

Other innovative practices are likely to generate a strong response when consumers completely understand the uses and capabilities of the technological advancements. For example, some are questioning whether cloud computing is an ethical practice. Cloud computing enables a firm to have network access to a shared pool of computing resources rather than owning those resources in house (Miller & Voas, 2010). The firm’s information is stored virtually somewhere else by a vendor providing cost savings to the firm. Concerns are raised about the security of the information, the comingling of customer information with other data, and the denial of access to the information when there are vendor issues. Although cloud computing is clearly possible, many question whether it is a legal and ethical way to conduct business. The American Bar Association has strongly criticized the use of cloud computing by law firms due to the security issues (Grady, 2011; Kennedy, 2009).

Advances in technology have also allowed for data from many different sources to be aggregated together to create a digital profile of an individual. Spokeo purports to be “a people search engine that organizes vast quantities of white-pages listings, social information, and other people-related data from a large variety of public sources” ( Spokeo reveals a person’s age, sex, marital status, income, occupation, education level, political affiliation, race, and includes a picture of residence obtained from Google maps. The information is not verified, and Spokeo claims no responsibility for the use of the data. Aggregation of data raises several ethical issues including the ownership of the data, extent of user consent, and privacy concerns.

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