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Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

A Violation of Privacy

Clare Bartlett

Marcus is a computer engineer who has recently developed an app which helps users keep track of medical information, doctor’s appointments, and prescriptions.

Information about the user is stored in this app, including what prescriptions they are taking and how frequently they schedule doctor’s appointments. As the developers of the app, Marcus and his company have access to this information.

The marketing department requests Marcus supply them with customer-specific information so they can better target ads and app suggestions to the users. Marcus understands that he is part of a company, but also feels that the privacy of the app users should be protected. Additionally, Marcus feels that as an engineer, he should be responsible to those who use his technology.

How does Marcus determine how much of the user’s information should be shared with marketing? Is this an ethical use of information or a violation of the user’s privacy?

Clare Bartlett was a 2014-2015 Hackworth Fellow in Engineering Ethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University.

August 2015

Aug 26, 2015