How Does Technology Affect Business Ethics?
The more integrated a piece of technology becomes into the way we do business, the more the potential ethical conundrums posed by that technology become apparent. Ethical business practices need to grow and evolve in step with technology. While new devices and advances may make the day-to-day operations of running a business easier, they also create challenges that the ethical businessperson must contend with.
Privacy has become a much larger concern in the modern technological age. Business ethicists are still learning and debating how much privacy people are entitled to in the digital age, as are lawmakers. For instance, many employers had taken to the practice of requiring potential employees to provide them with the password to their Facebook pages. This opened up the door to potential privacy issues, not to mention discriminatory hiring practices. In 2012, a law was passed in California to prohibit this particular breach of privacy; but in some jurisdictions, the decision whether or not to ask for this information is still an ethical, rather than a legal matter.
One of the largest impacts technology had on business ethics was felt when peer-to-peer file sharing came on the scene. People suddenly had a way to obtain software for free, and initially the law struggled to keep up. Although anti-piracy laws are now firmly in place, businesses looking to cut costs may still struggle with ethics when it comes to the use of software. Most software has a terms of service agreement that users are required to agree to, and ethical businesses must adhere to these. For instance, online services may require that only one employee at a company have access to an online service, otherwise additional licenses or memberships need to be purchased.
Corporate espionage has been a tool employed in the past to try and gain insight into the successes, failures, research or strategic plans of competitors. In the past, this often involved face-to-face communication, physical spying, bribery or similar techniques. Technology has hugely widened the potential for corporate espionage, and ethical companies need to take wider measures to ensure employees aren't engaging in this type of activity. For every new communications technology that emerges, such as email or text messaging, a means of intercepting those messages is inevitably developed and needs to be guarded against. Corporate espionage is only one example of how new standards for ethical business practices need to be in a constant state of development. Activities that aren't classified as corporate espionage but which result in the same benefits to a company are also more and more possible as technology develops. For example, a company could choose to have an employee surf all the public social media profiles of a competitor in case they have made any mistakes and revealed any information which should have been kept private. While this might be legal, it may appear to be unethical.
Technology enables companies to have greater oversight over the ethical practices of their employees. Some companies include clauses in employment contracts that grant them the authority to monitor the electronic activity of their staff. By doing do, some ethical violations become readily apparent. However, this again raises the issue of privacy, and how much of it employees should be entitled to. It is certainly ethical for managers to try and prevent unlawful or unethical activities on the part of their employees, but technology continually complicates the question of how that type of oversight can be installed and enforced. As they develop, new technologies create both ways that ethical violations can be perpetrated, and ways to monitor or prevent such offenses.