Legal & Ethical Issues in E-Business
In the Information Age, technology evolves fast and data travels even faster. It can be difficult for the law to keep up with new technologies and inventive ways to conduct e-business. Because of this, the law often lags behind, and lawmakers end up drafting laws to clean up Internet messes instead of preventing them. Take digital file sharing -- dubbed piracy -- for example, laws were not created to prevent digital piracy until millions of albums were stolen and the music industry was crippled. The lag in laws mean that e-business executives must rely on ethics as they move forward in e-commerce.
Internet businesses have a legal obligation to protect the private information of their customers. E-commerce activity often involves collecting secure data such as names and phone numbers associated with email addresses. Many e-business activities also involve transactions, so customer banking or credit card information also ends up stored online. Legally, it is up to the e-business to store and protect or dispose of this sensitive data. The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, for example, protects the online privacy rights of children. Under this law, parents have control of what personal information their children can give to e-businesses.
Several online marketing issues spring from the inherent anonymity of the Internet. It is often difficult to know the real identity of an e-business owner. A few online businesses take advantage of this in unethical or illegal ways. Some e-businesses track the online activity of their customers so that they can show advertisements based on the customer’s behavior. Behavioral advertising is not illegal, and it is not illegal to refrain from disclosing that an e-businesses tracks activity, although many people consider this nondisclosure unethical.
Due to the Internet’s free flow of information, plagiarism and copyright infringement is a continual problem. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act addresses plagiarism and copyright infringement in the specific context of the Internet and e-business. Under this law, it is illegal to use online technology to copy and distribute legally copyrighted material, such as photography, articles or books, music or videos.
Net neutrality is the hotly debated idea that Internet users should have equal access to all websites. Most computers retrieve websites at the same speed, depending on the user's Internet account settings or service, no matter if the site is a multibillion-dollar company or a neighbor’s blog. But some Internet providers have the capability to deliver different websites at different speeds. This is an issue because some websites could pay providers to deliver their content at faster speeds, while smaller business with less capital might not be able to afford the faster processing, and the Internet would lose its free-access-for-all feel. The Federal Communications Commission currently supports net neutrality and bans providers from participating in any program that offers extra pay for higher speed access to any websites.