Dylan is a manager at a leading consumer electronics company. In his role, he must frequently interact with industry partners and customers. One day, Dylan met with a customer of one of his company’s custom products. The custom product was a special chip for an electronic appliance that was currently in its final stages of review before market release. During the meeting, the customer wanted to know the method of making the chip, a process which was not specified in the given datasheet. The client claimed this information was needed to ensure that the chip would function properly when it was integrated with electronic appliances.
At first, Dylan was uncertain. He wanted to give his customer more details if it was for the benefit of his client’s final product, but, at the same time, was concerned because the requested information was protected under his company’s non-disclosure agreement (NDA).
Dylan decided to discuss the matter with his supervisor; however, Dylan’s manager was overseeing many projects and, knowing that Dylan was capable and experienced, entrusted him to take care of the situation. When he returned to work the next day, Dylan received an email from his customer. The message stated that, if the chip’s manufacturing methodology was not disclosed, the customer would cease further investments in the product.
Shocked, Dylan believed that if the customer could not abide by the NDA, he should tell the contract should be broken off. However, doing so would mean losing a significant amount of profit they had intended on garnering from selling the chip. On the other hand, sharing confidential information with his customer could cause negative repercussions, especially if his company were to discover the legal breach.
Although it is highly unlikely that the extra chip information would be used by Dylan’s client for malicious purposes, its disclosure could potentially affect his company’s reputation, lead to mistrust in the company and compromise Dylan’s position. What should Dylan do?
Jocelyn Tan was a 2014-2015 Hackworth Fellow in Engineering Ethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University.