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What is Internet Ethics?

Irina Raicu, director of Internet Ethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, explores the role the internet plays in the development of the good life. She addresses privacy, net neutrality, access, big data, and other topics.

What do we talk about when we talk about "Internet ethics"?

We talk about the role that the Internet plays in what philosophers describe as the good life.

We talk about justice, rights, consequences, the balancing of good and harm, virtue, and the common good-as they manifest themselves in the digital part of our world.

We talk about old questions (Does anonymous communication hurt or help society?), new questions (Is Internet access a human right?), and old questions applied to new contexts (Is it wrong to use a neighbor's unprotected wi-fi without permission?).

We talk about privacy, big data, bots, social media, net neutrality, surveillance (both mass and not), search engines, energy use, cyberbullying, the "right to be forgotten," sexuality, online comments, cybersecurity, democracy, community, apps, gender, commerce, hacking, encryption, selfies, databases, law, law enforcement, civics, smart cities, spam, accountability, "slacktivism," the cloud, emoji, gamification, sentiment analysis, crowdfunding, hashtags, APIs, crowdsourcing, research, culture, code, recycling, MOOCs, and cookies.

We talk about decisions made about the building, maintenance, and governance of the Internet.

We ask, "Yes, you can, but should you?"

We ask, "It may not be illegal, but is it the right thing to do?"

We ask how we should figure out what the right thing to do is, and we look for ways to make better decisions.

We ask, "Will this produce the most good and the least harm?" "Does this respect the rights of all of the relevant stakeholders?" "Does this treat people fairly?" "Does this serve the community as a whole, not just some of its members?" "Does this lead me to act as the sort of person I want to be?"-and we apply all of those questions to Internet-related matters.

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Irina Raicu is Internet Ethics director at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics.

May 1, 2015