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Ethical Issues In Information Systems Privacy

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Media
Wordcount: 3734 words Published: 18th Apr 2017

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This essay aims to identify the ethical, social, professional and legal issues relevant to social media. It is a literature review that will present some of the key issues in both privacy and security subject matters. It is divided into several parts and to begin, it will present what social media is as well as mention some of the issues that users have had regarding the use of social media. It will then explain the ethical, social professional and legal issues related to the use social media. The essay will mainly be focusing on social networking and will present a balanced overview of some of the opposing perspectives of the issues presented. To conclude, the essay will reflect critically on these various perspectives, assess some of the key issues that have been presented and propose some appropriate solutions or courses of action from the perspective of an ethical IT professional.

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Social Media covers many aspects such as, blogs, videos, podcasts, discussion forums and social networking and the key stakeholders of social media include: programmers, developers and anyone who has access to a computer and a network. The particular aspect that will be covered is social networking. Social media may have several advantages such as keeping in touch with friends, families and coworkers enabling open communication which can lead to improved information discovery and distribution. For businesses, it can improve business reputation and can even gain a large target market with minimal use of advertising.

An interesting quote from Klepic (2010), a blogger, journalist and social media innovator who uses a reasonable approach to convey how social media impacts our daily lives, states that “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, what happens on twitter stays on Google forever.” This shows that this social media user or stakeholder has used social media and has been affected by it. Nowadays, websites that no longer exist have articles taken from them and are being used by other websites to show to the public. In the case of social media, privacy is obsolete as users and stakeholders of social networking websites and blogs, no longer have any sort of confidentiality when they post pictures, videos and posts of themselves on the internet in general. Another interesting quote from a social media user called Christian Hollingsworth (2011) stated that “Years ago, before Gravatars even existed, I would ‘inflate’ my blog comments. What I’d do is use a few of my different email addresses, and post comments on blog posts with pen (fake) names. I thought I was rather tricky. A few months ago I was looking through old blog posts on some old blogs, and found that those comments now had Gravatar images attached. And behold, they were all images of me! Due to my Gravatar account now linking to those email addresses.” This social media user or blogger was harmlessly posting comments on other blogs using fake names for privacy reasons and was later found that due to an online social media application, an image of him was posted next to all his previous blog posts. The application or website did not mention that his old posts were going to have images of himself posted right next to his comments and therefor his right to privacy has been violated. Most of the public are using social media such as twitter and Facebook and have no knowledge on where or how their personal information is being shared.

Legal Issues

This section covers any questions that have any concerns on the protection that laws and regulations provide regarding social media. The rules and legislations that we will be looking at is the United Kingdom Laws (UK Laws) that help protect an individual’s privacy and security rights and support ideas and concepts on privacy and security. In the Data Protection Act (1998) under Section 55 it states that “it is an offence to knowingly or recklessly obtain, disclose or procure the disclosure of personal information without the consent of the data controller.” This means that an individual is not allowed to obtain another person’s personal information, which includes information such as name, home address and age, and expose it without the consent of that person. This applies to the use of social media as this principle is at stake. An individual can access another person’s private information through blogs, for instance, and obtain his or her name or home address and expose it to others without the consent of that person. The Data Protection Act (1998) states that if organizations were to collect or share an individual’s information, they must use it fairly and the person has the right to know whether an organization has collected information about them and to whom they shared it with. This includes any information that has been obtained from social media websites which is stated in The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) which is the UK’s independent authority.

Facebook, the social networking website, was sued due to sharing personal information of individuals, such as their names, to third-party application makers without their consent or permission in late 2012 (Essers, 2012). The third-party applications, which were running through Facebook’s Application Center, accessed chat logs of several users on Facebook and gained their personal information without the consent of the users. The first hearing takes place in the summer of 2013. The Data Protection Act (1998) is threatened as the social networking website gains personal information from their users and shares them to third-party application makers without the users’ consents. Due to wrongfully sharing personal information, users have sued Facebook.

The Computer Misuse Act (1990) under Section 1: “Unauthorized Access to Computer Material,” Section 2: “Unauthorized Access with Intent to Commit or Facilitate Commission of Further Offences,” and Section 3: “Unauthorized Modifications of Computer Materials,” the principles are threatened. These sections of the Computer Misuse Act (1990) all deal with the offence of hacking with or without the intent to commit serious crime such as fraud. In the case of social media, it is an offence to use an individual’s username and password to gain unauthorized access to social networking sites and computers to gain, share and change private information. Social networking websites can even be hacked and used to hack into computers to gain private information such as credit card information just by looking at the purchases a person has made in Facebook for instance.

Another principle similar to The Computer Misuse Act (1990) is stated in the Federal Decree-Law no. 5 (2012), which was first issued in the United Arab Emirates, under Article 10 regarding ‘hacking.’ The article states that there is a penalty for “whoever willfully and without authorization runs a software on the computer network or an electronic information system or any information technology means, and caused them to stop functioning or being impaired, or resulted in crashing, deletion, omission, destruction of the program, system, website, data or information.” This means that there is a consequence for an individual to hack into another person’s computer application or systems (ex. Facebook or Forums) and change or delete any information that belongs to that person. This standard is threatened as people can gain access to website applications and alter or delete any system or information located on the network. This must not be done as there is a large penalty for undertaking such immoral conducts.

Another principle that could be at stake is the Computer, Designs and Patents Act (1998). This principle or act illustrates the penalties of wrongfully sharing or transferring copyrighted information to other people. It is illegal to share information such as music, which does not belong to an individual, without the consent or permission of the owner. Social media can be easily used to share and transfer data and information, often copyrighted information, such as music, video and even images. Napster, a free music sharing network, had to be shut down due to copyright in 2001. Peer-to-peer programs and applications can be considered part of Social Media as individuals can communicate between each other through their personal computers. Napster was sued due to sharing music freely without the permission of the owners and due to the lawsuit it was shutdown (McGuinn, 2000).

Ethical Issues

The ethical issues that come to mind when social media is present is that social media can be used to spread distasteful information such as racism, hatred, violence and even sexual material. Organizations can send junk or chain letters that most individuals do not want. This can be related to the Human Rights Act (1998) under Section 8 where it states that “everyone has the right to respect for his or her private and family life, home and correspondence.” To put it simply, this means that everyone has the right to privacy. Privacy is an ethical principle that is at stake when it comes to the use of social media as social networking websites can be used to invade the privacy of others. Privacy has several meanings depending on a person’s beliefs, culture and even religion and therefore different perspectives plays a huge role. However, most laws and regulations define privacy as the condition or quality of being completely free from being witnessed or seen. It is also the state of being free from information distributed from other people, whether its co-workers, friends or even family. We as individuals value the need of space and privacy and therefore it is an important aspect in our daily lives. Joseph (2007: 109) states that ‘in the information age, the value of privacy has been eroded. We can no longer guarantee our privacy.’ Our right to privacy is violated when using social media. In the case of the use of social media, the Human Rights Act (1998) is threatened due to the fact that an individual’s right to privacy can be vulnerable as people can obtain other peoples information and spread distasteful material about them to other people or organizations. In fact, spreading distasteful information is mainly done through social networking websites.

“It is an offence to publish news, pictures or comments relating to the secrets of a person’s private or family life or to use another person’s ‘secret’ for your own, or someone else’s, advantage without the consent of the person to whom the ‘secret’ relates,” (Garrod & Smith 2011). An ethical principle very much like The Human Rights Act (1998), in the United Arab Emirates individuals have their right to privacy and there is a penalty for publishing distasteful or personal information on a person to the public.

The principle of integrity can also be violated as the security of a person can be threatened. Security can be defined as the state of being completely safe from any sort of danger. As individuals we value the need of security especially when it comes to using the internet as there are many dangers of using social networks or blogs such as hacking. A person’s security maybe threatened when using social media due to the fact that his or her personal information such as credit card information may be stolen. Information technology plays a huge role on several types of security which may include: Computer Security, Data Security, Application Security, Information Security and Network Security and all of these can be threatened by Malware/Adware, Viruses, Spam and Information Theft. These threats to security and information technology can be used to secretly access a computer system without the owner’s informed consent to perform hostile, intrusive or annoying actions.

Another ethical issue of social media is false reports and acquisitions. In June of 2009 when the pop star Michael Jackson died there have been unsubstantiated reports stating that the actor Jeff Goldblum had also died and the report spread onto many people and that’s when the ethics of social media were tested. According to Dodson (2009) most people thought it was a harmless rumor but in Australia, Channel 9 news spent almost two minutes in its show spreading this information to the public, saying that it was a tragedy. This entire story was a hoax and was first posted via two social media websites; Facebook and Twitter. To put it in the perspective of others, some people would have though this as a joke while others would have taken this seriously and think it was real. This means that no everything online is true.

To understand Social Media and the ethical issues that arise on individuals it is important to look at the two ethical theories (Consequentialist and Deontological) and their opposing perspectives on a certain situation, an example being a user’s activity on YouTube. This person’s activity can be viewed by other YouTube user’s as well as non-YouTube user’s, including comments posted, videos watched and videos posted. The consequentialist theorist would argue that it is acceptable for other people to see his activities while the deontological theorist would argue that his right to privacy is violated and it is wrong for people to see his activities. It is important to understand whether privacy may or may not be violated depending on the individual’s theories or perspectives behind social media.

Social Issues

Social issues are any behaviors or conditions a person may find undesirable. Social media can have several negative effects on a person including social isolation; some people would rather browse the internet playing video games and chatting online than having an actual social life outside the internet ‘world.’ According to Goldsmith (2013), “witnessing friend’s vacations, love lives and work successes on Facebook can cause envy and trigger feelings of misery and loneliness.” In social networking, most individuals only care about how many ‘likes’ they have obtained on their photos or posts as opposed to what really matters which is who ‘liked’ their photos or posts. Another issue according, to Yao (2012), is that stalking becomes easy. In order to search for someone, all a person needs to do is search for their name online. Loneliness is another issue as people comment on their friends’ pages and not yours. From the point of view of a social network user, people only contact you if they need some sort of assistance such as when they only want you to like their posts or images rather than having a normal friendly conversation. A person can feel lonely when they see that their friends have been invited to a large gathering that they had no idea about.

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From the perspective of a non-social network user, a person can feel that he or she does not exist to certain old people due to the fact that nowadays the main way of communication is through social networking websites such as Facebook or MySpace. Another issue is that some social networking users will talk to other users depending on how many friends they have. The more friends an individual has the more popular they become and therefor social interaction is at an all-time high. Another issue can be the confusion of defining a friend. A study by Weiner (2009) has shown that the traditional notion of friendship is trust, support as well as sharing similar values whereas on a social network a friend is someone who’s link an individual has ‘clicked’ on. In a child’s perspective and in some cases adults, they can be very competitive as they talk about how many friends they have whereas most of these alleged social networking friends are not actual people that share some sort of trust or share similar values.

Of course form the point of the view of managers, researchers as well as participants, these issues are ignored as their jobs are to solely market their products or conduct research and find new information, for example, and don’t bother with the social side of their life when using social networking websites.

Professional Issues

Organizations need to watch what employees publicly comment about their own organizations and employers. An example would be that an employee working at an organization wrote on his profile on a social networking stating that his job was tedious and unexciting. This person can be dismissed from the organization. Another example is that what if an unhappy employee decides to complain about a company and the products they make using social networking. Consumers might think twice before buying any of that company’s products. There are also legal penalties if employees view and click on offensive content on social networking websites as employers could be held liable for failing to protect workers from viewing such distasteful material. The penalties, legal costs and damages to the company’s reputation can be extensive.

In the BCS Code of Conduct (2011) under Article 3 of the “Duty to Relevant Authority” it states that a person may “NOT disclose or authorize to be disclosed, or use for personal gain or to benefit a third party, confidential information except with the permission of your Relevant Authority, or as required by Legislation” and may “NOT misrepresent or withhold information on the performance of products, systems or services (unless lawfully bound by a duty of confidentiality not to disclose such information), or take advantage of the lack of relevant knowledge or inexperience of others.” This is a direct correlation to what employees must not do to misrepresent their organization. This means that employees must not misrepresent their organizations in anyway. Social networking websites can be easily used to do misrepresent an organization to the public as the information is being passed on to other people quickly. This is also stated in the social networking website Facebook under their Facebook Terms of Service (2012) under Article 5; “Protecting Other People’s Rights,” where it explains that an individual cannot violate a person, including companies, right to privacy and must not misrepresent said person in anyway. In Facebook’s Privacy Policy under section 3: “Information you share with Third Parties,” it states that “certain types of communications that you send to other users cannot be removed, such as messages.” From the perspective of a manager or owner of an organization, this can be a threat to the company as employees can post distasteful information about the company to certain people and cannot remove or delete that information which can be a problem as that information is always there for the public to see therefore giving the organization a bad reputation.

From the perspective and point of view of a professional individual or a manager as well as a social network provider, the use of social networking websites should be encouraged to employees as it is a good way to market the organization and its products as well as communicate with business partners; however the employees should not misrepresent their company to the public when using social networking.

Another minor professional issue, that may be taken seriously, is an organizations bandwidth usage. Software updates from social networking websites such as Facebook or Twitter may not take up large amounts of bandwidth; however video links that are posted on these sites may create difficulties for information technology administrators in a company as there is a cost to pay, especially in terms of ‘bandwidth-hungry’ applications, when browsing on the internet.


Codes and principles are necessary for the practice of social media. If every person did not play fairly and have any respect, honesty or decency, then there would be more laws and principles that would be much stricter than the current laws as social media would be chaotic.

For businesses, social media is a dilemma as they need to adopt and change the way they communicate, however they realize that social media can be a threat as employee can misrepresent or express distasteful information about the organizations to the public. Every minute spent on social media websites can expose and cause a threat to the security of an organization. Organizations need to set limits and restrictions with certain monitoring systems, as to not offend an employee, to help reduce the release of any unpleasant information to the public. An optimal solution, yet not recommended (to not indicate a lack of trust from the organizations to the employees), is banning any access to social media websites. For security reasons and as a basic safeguard, organizations must have an anti-virus software setup on each computer.

Social media users must ensure that they do not, under any circumstances, publish any personal or private information on social media websites. For their security, they must ensure that they have the latest version of anti-virus software installed on to their computers.


Though people are aware of their privacy and security threats, sometimes they choose to ignore them. Social media websites heavily encourage individuals to reveal information about them regardless of what the information is about. Sometimes even the brightest of intellectuals give out information that they should not have. Today, almost the full population of the world has a profile account on Facebook or Twitter and they enjoy the idea of communicating with their friends, families and coworkers online. Individuals must not forget that because they have their ‘own’ profile page they can only gain access to, they must know that whatever information is written on the internet, will most likely stay there forever.


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