The Ethics In Management Information Systems Information Technology Essay

As information system use becomes more widespread and more individuals and organizations rely on the internet as a means of conducting business, it becomes ever more important to assure that the internet is a place where privacy is protected.

Additionally, as organizations rely more on information systems, they become vulnerable to attacks on these precious technologies. These are just some of the ethical issues professionals face when dealing with information systems and emerging technologies. Although often overlooked, ethical decision-making is an important issue for all organizations and individuals in the arena of information technologies. In order to better understand the ethical dilemmas facing professionals and private citizens and appreciate their consequences, researchers, practitioners and academics must have access to the latest thinking and practice concerning ethics and information systems( [] ).

Problem of the Research

In recent years, the Management Information Systems has seen a great technological revolution in terms of software used, and the nature of dealing with this software and its mechanisms and employment in the service of various administrative actions, what make necessary to increase supervision over the work of this software, whether self-censorship stemming from the persons themselves or by the direct administrative control.

Importance of the Research

The importance of this research come from the growing importance of the role of management information systems in management, whether public or private, as well as the significant rise in depending on the new software and development it daily for the development of management information systems work. Also the importance of this research come from the necessity of ethical controls governing how to deal with this software and development to appropriate the needs of various administrative and prevent the inappropriate or bad use of the software, or use techniques that are in violation of the ethics of information systems.

Purpose of the Research

This research aims to discuss the role of ethics in management information systems, by discussing the main features of ethics in information systems, and management information systems, and how the ethical behavior may improve the ways we use the management information systems, And thus increase the efficiency of administrative work, which relies on these systems.

Questions of the Research

This research trying to find the answer to the following questions:

What are ethics?

What are business ethics?

What the role of ethics in Information Systems in general?

What the main features of using ethics issues in information systems?

How Management Information Systems should deal with ethics?

What are Ethics? What are business Ethics?

Ethics is the branch of philosophy that deals with the determination of what is right or wrong, good or bad. To behave ethically is to live one’s life in accordance with a set of ethical principles, which are based, ultimately, on moral values. Over the centuries, philosophers have proposed many competing theories of ethical conduct. Some philosophers believe that ethical behavior must be grounded in absolute moral principles, such as “Behave towards others as you want them to behave toward you.” Others believe that ethical behaviors are required because they lead to the greatest good for the greatest number of people. Still others believe that ethics must be founded in religious values( [] ).

The word ethics is derived from the Greek root ethos, meaning character. Ethics is a suite of guiding beliefs, standards, or ideals that pervades an individual or a group or community of people. All individuals are accountable to their community for their behavior. The community can exist in such forms as a city, state, nation, or profession. Unlike morals, ethics can vary considerably from one community to another( [] ).

A glance at the dictionary indicates that ethics deal with “what is good and bad and with moral duty and obligation”, some researchers point out that three interrelated meanings are usually associated with the term “ethics”. The first focuses on fundamental principles of moral behavior that should apply, at least in theory, to everyone. The second refers to principles of conduct developed by, and for, members of a particular profession. The third involves the systematic study of the beliefs people hold, and the behaviors they exhibit, relevant to morality( [] ).

Given these definitions of ethics, it might appear that the distinction between what is and what is not an ethical issue should be pretty clear-cut. That is, ethical problems deal with matters of moral account ability related to “doing the right (good) things” ‘or “doing the wrong (bad) thing”, while non ethical problems are ones where this dimension is not relevant( [] ).

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Normative ethics provide the philosophical basis for establishing principles that are morally correct. As there is no universally accepted philosophical

base, ethics are often measured by many conflicting standards. Most people

seem to fit the ethical principle to a particular situation. Therefore, to be meaningfully applied to the business environment, a general definition

of practical ethics must be flexible. Lewis (1985) offered a definition of business ethics stated that: “Business ethics is moral rules, standards, codes, or principles which provide guidelines for right and truthful behavior in specific situations”. According to this definition, ethical codes are more than a tool to support ethical behavior; they are fundamental to the definition of ethics( [] ).

Despite an explosion of interest in business ethics, there is no universally accepted definition. According to Taylor (1975), ethics may be defined as

“inquiry into the nature and grounds of morality where the term morality is taken to mean moral judgments, standards, and rules of conduct.” Thus,

business ethics refers to inquiry into the nature and grounds of moral judgments, standards and rules of conduct in situations involving business decisions. Arlow and Ulrich (1980) suggested that ethical situations in business, as compared to ethical situations in general, involve greater complexities and have some unique properties. These complexities might include things such as societal expectations, fair competition and social responsibilities, whereas the unique properties of business ethics might

include all of the potential consequences of an individual’s actions on others, including customers, employees and competitors. Thus, within a business context ethical conflict is virtually inherent since the individual decision maker has responsibilities and duties to various diverse groups whose interests are often inconsistent. Included among these groups is the individual’s own self interest as well( [] ).

Ethics and Information Systems

Ethics represent basic societal values, and assume that our society functions on trust. We trust that others will fulfill commitments they make with us. As ethical behavior engenders trust, unethical behavior destroys it. Technology of some type has always been used to control the content and flow of information, but the technology itself is ethically neutral. It is critical for information systems professionals to understand this concept and realize that it is the users of the technology who make the ethical decisions. The notion of the computer or information system in the back room, unseen and unaffected by other activities in the firm, is becoming outdated. When information systems personnel engage in unethical behavior, the entire organization suffers. Increasing scrutiny of these operations by both management and outside parties will make it difficult to hide behind comments such as: “Our job is to ensure the integrity of the data. Use of the data is not our job”( [] ).

For firms to operate ethically, there must be a climate conducive to ethical behavior in the society. Former IBM Chairman John Akers stated: “Ethics

and competitiveness are inseparable. We compete as a society. No society anywhere will compete very long or successfully with people stabbing each other in the back… There is no escaping this fact: The greater the measure of mutual trust and confidence in the ethics of a society, the greater its economic strength” (Grier 1991). An ethically conducive environment is created by the people in the environment. If the people of a society expect firms to act ethically, they must act ethically( [] ).

Ethics is required in information Systems to overcome the following ethical issues( [] ):

Privacy: What information about one’s self or one’s associations must a person reveal to others, under what conditions and with what safeguards? What things can people keep to themselves and not be forced to reveal to others?

Accuracy: Who is responsible for the authenticity, fidelity and accuracy of information? Similarly, who is to be held accountable for errors in information and how is the injured party to be made whole?

Property: Who owns information? What are the just and fair prices for its exchange? Who owns the channels, especially the airways, through which information is transmitted? How should access to this scarce resource be allocated?

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Accessibility: What information does a person or an organization have a right or a privilege to obtain, under what conditions and with what safeguards?

Information System ethics explores and evaluates( [] ):

• the development of moral values in the information field,

• the creation of new power structures in the information field, information myths,

• hidden contradictions and intentionality’s in information theories and practices,

• the development of ethical conflicts in the information field. etc

Exploring the ethics issues in information systems( [] )

Information systems confront society with a variety of challenges of an ethical nature, some old and some new.

1) Confidentiality: Some graduates of Information System (IS) classes will one day build systems for a living; all graduates will be users of information systems. Confidentiality of information is important for all information-using professions.

Some solutions to securing data, such as requiring the use of a password to access data and providing passwords only on a need-to-know basis are fairly straight forward. But concomitant ethical issues, such as deciding who needs to know, are not so simple to address. For example, should managers have access to their supervisee’s medical records or psychological profiles? If one employee discovers that another employee contemplates suicide, should a supervisor be informed and whose supervisor? What is the proper response to a police request for information about an employee, vendor, or customer?

The possibility of matching of data from various databases confounds this issue. Database matching occurs when information is collected from more

than one database to locate persons who match some criterion.

2) Social responsibility of programmers and of their managers: An important ethical question that students should confront is whether programmers have an obligation to act in a socially responsible manner. Berkeley (1962) explores this issues in depth. May a free-lance programmer ethically work for a thief? If not, how about working on a computer project that is legal, but unethical, such as the one used to intern Americans of Japanese origin during the WW II? Is all that is legal ethical? Are all ethical decisions legal?

3) Social responsibility of systems analysts: An analyst’s job is to design work flows that are efficient One result of an analyst’s work can be that people will lose their jobs? Is such conduct ethical? Some jobs that analysts design, such as full-time VDT operators’ jobs, are known to be highly stressful and cause harm to the worker. Should analysts create such jobs?

Research has shown that computer monitoring of workers (number of keystrokes per hour, number of telephone calls responded to per hour) increases productivity of the worker. Is such activity an invasion of privacy? Should an analyst refuse to implement a system that creates computer monitoring or that involves privacy?

4) Issues common to all managers: Should information system managers refuse gifts from a vendor? Should the manager refuse a cup of coffee or a coffee cup? Is free literature to educate the manager legitimate? a free vendor course? a free course, travel paid, held in Hawaii? What should you do if your boss appears to be making a bad business decision because of a bribe? Is it legitimate to call home if you are going to be late? To call home over the lunch break, just to chat? To call your friends in town? in Hawaii?

5) Dealing with others: The various computer professional organizations, including Data Processing Management Association (DPMA) and Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) have set ethical standards for their members. Three common elements in these codes are to (1) maintain competence, (2) disclose conflict of interest, and (3) maintain confidentiality of information even after employment ends.

What should you do if a co-worker is incompetent? If a colleague at another company calls, asking for your opinion of a former co-worker who was fired for incompetence, what should you do? Should companies reveal violations of ethical standards? Should you forgo a good thing simply because you benefit from its use? (Should a professor not adopt his or her own book?) If you write code for one employer, are you forbidden forever from using that code again for another employer? If so, how many times can you re-invent the wheel?

Management Information Systems and Ethics

Presumably, Management Information Systems (MIS) professionals struggle with the same types of ethical issues faced by other business professionals. Ethical dilemmas regarding conflict of interest, theft, equal opportunity, and environmental impact cut across professions. In addition to these general concerns, several issues that apply specifically to the information systems (IS) profession are raised in the literature.

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The nature of computer technology renders the ethical issues encountered by IS professionals unique. Parker et al. (1990) contended that “advancements in computer and data communications technology have resulted in the need to reevaluate the application of ethical principles and establish new agreements on ethical practices” . Information on electronic and magnetic storage media lends itself to ease of reproduction, theft, and contamination; raising issues regarding, propriety rights, property rights,

privacy, plagiarism, misuse, and freedom of expression. Because of the growing benefits accrued from access to computers. Johnson (1985) suggested that there may be circumstances in which access to computers, computer skills, computer professionals, and decision making about computer applications could be construed as rights( [] ).

The most encompassing, and possibly the most pervasive, inquiry made in the literature involves the role that IS professionals should take in determining how their work is applied and to what end it serves. Implicit in this query is the issue of prioritizing obligations to different stakeholders who are affected by the system. Several recent studies speak to these issues.

Recent studies of MIS, business, and engineering students indicate that undergraduate students have a different perception of ethically acceptable behavior than do experienced MIS professionals( [] ).

These studies provide insights regarding possible conflicts and sources of misunderstanding among members of the IS profession about issues on which all professions are judged. Vitell and Davis’ (1990) study showed that the MIS professionals surveyed felt they had many opportunities to engage in unethical behavior, but that MIS managers rarely did. Forcht (1991) surveyed chief executive officers on the 1988 listing of Datamation 100 companies. She asked subjects to respond to statements concerning

ethical behavior. Forcht’s only conclusion was that “It would appear that the CEOs responding hold some very high ethical standards personally and expect their companies to abide by these same standards( [] ).

The reviewed MIS ethics studies indicate the importance that IS professionals place on ethics and the potential benefits of ethical training for students and new professionals. Experienced professionals have a strong commitment to ethical behavior and feel as if they can distinguish unethical practices from acceptable practices. These findings seem contradictory to the evidence provided by citations in popular and academic literature of ethical transgressions of MIS professionals( [] ).

Within an MIS context, a strict deontologist might view copying software as inherently unethical, and would oppose this practice no matter what the

circumstances. A strict teleologist, on the other hand, might examine the possible positive consequences for himself and the firm (e.g., increased productivity and cost savings) and weigh these against the possible negative consequences if the firm were to be prosecuted (e.g., possible damages and negative publicity). If this individual felt that the positive consequences outweighed the negatives ones, he might feel that this practice was “worth the risk” for himself and the organization. Someone who was influenced by both the deontological and teleological perspectives might consider both the inherent rightness versus wrongness of copying software as well as the possible consequences of it. Such an individual might only consider this practice as a feasible alternative under very special circumstances (e.g., if the survival of the firm depended upon it) ( [] ).


As for the relation between ethical standards and MIS professionals performance, we can note the results of the study conducted by Scott J. Vitell and titled “Ethical Beliefs of MIS Professionals”, who conclude that the ethical standards can improve among MIS professionals when top management makes it clear that ethical behavior will be rewarded and unethical behavior will be punished. If top management does not support ethical conduct, it becomes less likely that subordinates will behave ethically. Given these results concerning top management setting the ethical tone for the firm, it seems imperative that more organizations should write and enforce codes of ethics. At least some unethical practices could be eliminated by more top managers taking such a stance. In addition, industry codes of ethics could be helpful in reducing unethical practices( [] ).

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