Category: Information Ethics

The ethics of how information is used by companies across the Internet.

Ethical Issues With YouTube Videos

Ethical Issues With YouTube Videos

Since Google bought YouTube in October of 2006, there has been controversy associated with the site. Just a few weeks after the purchase there were lawsuits against Google for copyright infringement. The idea that any individual can upload a video for the entire world to see is very powerful. A concept that one would only dream of even in the early 90s. With great power comes great responsibility, right? Not according to the Terms of Service. The responsibility lies solely on the individual, and not Google. And to make things more complicated, the individual can remain anonymous. The following is important information from the Google Terms of Service web site:

You shall be solely responsible for your own Content and the consequences of submitting and publishing your Content on the Service. You affirm, represent, and warrant that you own or have the necessary licenses, rights, consents, and permissions to publish Content you submit; and you license to YouTube all patent, trademark, trade secret, copyright or other proprietary rights in and to such Content for publication on the Service pursuant to these Terms of Service.
• For clarity, you retain all of your ownership rights in your Content. However, by submitting Content to YouTube, you hereby grant YouTube a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sublicenseable and transferable license to use, reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works of, display, and perform the Content in connection with the Service and YouTube’s (and its successors’ and affiliates’) business, including without limitation for promoting and redistributing part or all of the Service (and derivative works thereof) in any media formats and through any media channels. You also hereby grant each user of the Service a non-exclusive license to access your Content through the Service, and to use, reproduce, distribute, display and perform such Content as permitted through the functionality of the Service and under these Terms of Service. The above licenses granted by you in video Content you submit to the Service terminate within a commercially reasonable time after you remove or delete your videos from the Service. You understand and agree, however, that YouTube may retain, but not display, distribute, or perform, server copies of your videos that have been removed or deleted. The above licenses granted by you in user comments you submit are perpetual and irrevocable.

In short, Google claims no responsibility for the content uploaded to its site. While this may be acceptable in the United States where free speech reigns, other countries/cultures see YouTube as a threat. YouTube gives everybody an equal voice, which is exactly what some other cultures want to avoid. The following is a list of countries that have either completely banned YouTube, or shut the service temporarily.

• Afghanistan
• Armenia
• Bangladesh
• Brazil
• China
• Indonesia
• Iran
• Libya
• Morocco
• Pakistan
• Russia
• Syria
• Sudan
• Thailand
• Tunisia
• Turkey
• Turkmenistan
• United Arab Emirates
• United States

The topic of our group presentation is focusing on the issue with the Brazilian government. The government requested a video be taken off of YouTube, and even issued a warrant for arrest of a Google executive in charge of the Google Brazil office. A judge later released the Google exec and issued the following statement, “Google is not the intellectual author of the video, it did not post the file, and for that reason it cannot be punished for its propagation.” And was it right that that Brazilian government was trying to arrest the employee of Google? The employee was acting on Google’s behalf, so any judgment should go against the corporation and not the employee. This ruling is exactly what Google’s term of service aims to do, protect itself from legal threats that come from its users videos. Perhaps the Brazilian government knew they couldn’t legally arrest a Google employee, so maybe they were just looking for policy concessions. Or they could have just wanted to try and make headlines to try and get public support.
A lot of YouTube videos feature cute little kittens playing around, or groups of people doing some crazy dance. Those are the videos that made YouTube what it is. YouTube has also effectively killed music videos on viewed on cable TV, since almost all music videos can be found on YouTube now. Every minute 72 hours of video is uploaded to be viewed on YouTube.com. Trying to regulate what videos makes it to the site to be viewed in not practical, so it becomes an open platform to post any kind of video you like. With over 1 billion unique users, and over 1 trillion video views a year, that comes to an average of 140 views for every person on Earth. The power and reach of YouTube cannot be matched by any other sight on the Internet.

Not all videos are about kittens and college kids doing crazy dance moves, some are serious and have very strong political messages. These videos can be used as propaganda and act just like a TV commercial would, getting views from thousands or even millions of people. In the case with Brazil, the video was attacking a local mayoral candidate. When the government ordered Google to take down the video, Google issued a statement basically defending free speech, and to be able to freely express opinions on the Internet. Ethically looking at the situation, Relativism says that morality varies from culture to culture and from individual to individual. Culturally propaganda electoral video are not acceptable in Brazil. Google believes differently, and will not change the design of their technology to fit the culture in Brazil.

Google has a right to design their technology however they like and they have chosen to live with the consequences of that decision. The consequences include constant legal battles and controversy, along with being completely banned in some countries. In this case, Google must believe the benefits the site is providing, outweigh the negative controversy that goes with hosting anonymous videos.
Are these types of controversies harming Google’s image? According to the 2013 Harris Poll Reputation report, Google has the 4th best corporate reputation according to the general public. With a great public perception, Google has a lot of wiggle room with the design of its services. They afford to take stands in political matters, such as the one in Brazil, when there are so many people that think favorable about the company. If a company such as Goldman Sachs (which has one of the worst corporate reputations) were to make a free speech political stance such as Google did, it would not bear as much weight with public opinion.
Ethically, YouTube videos will always create a great deal of controversy, especially in cultures that are sensitive to free speech. With revenues that will likely surpass $4 billion dollars this year, there is no argument that Google’s business strategy with YouTube is working very well. Until their corporate image or revenues start to fall because of controversial videos, don’t expect their policies to change anytime soon.

References:
Holland, Steve. Brazil judge orders arrest of Google exec over YouTube video. Retrieved from http://www.nbcnews.com/technology/technolog/brazil-judge-orders-arrest-google-exec-over-youtube-video-1B6097570

YouTube Statistics. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/yt/press/statistics.html

YouTube Terms of Service. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/t/terms

Brazil Detains Google Chief over Anti-Islam YouTube Clip. Retrieved from http://www.debbieschlussel.com/54747/brazil-fines-youtube-for-not-censoring-mohammed-video-fox-news-lies-about-the-story/

Goodwin, Danny. Google has 4th best corporate reputation. Feb. 13, 2013. Retrieved from http://searchenginewatch.com/article/2243735/Google-Has-4th-Best-Corporate-Reputation-Poll

Kafka, Peter. YouTube’s Gigantic Year is Already here. June, 21 2012. Retrieved from http://allthingsd.com/20120621/youtubes-gigantic-year-is-already-here-citi-says/

Bioengineering Ethics

Bioengineering Ethics

There are ethical issues related to bioengineering. A topic that is always up for debate is the science of cloning. Cloning is the replication of a life form by creating copies of DNA fragments. Cloning is similar to making a copy of a computer file. It is meant to be an exact replica of the original life form.

Many religious organizations oppose cloning due the very nature of the science. Many religious beliefs consider each person unique with each person or life form being created by a higher power, such as God. Cloning basically takes the place of God, as humans become the manufacturer of life instead of nature. Currently 13 states ban any form of reproductive cloning and 3 states prohibit use of public funds for any cloning related activities. There are currently no federal laws that prohibit cloning.
Human dignity is a common argument against cloning. The fact that cloning is not dignified, is enough for the catholic church to condemn cloning. It’s also enough for Canada to prohibit the following: Cloning humans, cloning stem cells, growing human embryos for research purposes, sex selection, and buying or selling of embryos, sperm, eggs or other human reproductive material.
Cloning for the greater good of humanity does not bring as much defiance. In fact, cloning has great benefits in the form of crops. Cloning can be used to improve the quality of the crops that we eat. It makes the plants resistant to herbicides, pest damage, infections and diseases. Cloned plants such as wheat, rice, maize, soybean, potato and others have been produced and are ready to be introduced into agriculture in the new future. Cloning genetically engineered animals can also be beneficial for highly efficient food production.

Cloning animals is still a highly inefficient process. The success rate ranges from .1 to 3 percent. So for every 1000 tries only around 30 will be successful. Therefore its simply not worth the effort at this point.

References:
The University of Utah. Cloning. Retrieved from http://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/tech/cloning/
Wikipedia. Cloning. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cloning#Ethical_issues_of_cloning
Wikipedia. Biological Engineering. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biological_engineering

Technology Privacy

Technology Privacy

Almost any new technology has to consider privacy issues. Technology created in the field of medicine and health care have to consider privacy. Companies such as Google and Facebook have to consider privacy simply to keep the trust of their user base. Consumers need to trust who they are using services from. Facebook has been in the news the last few years especially when they change privacy rules without informing their users. Users often need to be proactive to change their privacy settings, otherwise their data will be publicly available.

When a technology company gives away their service for free, the consumer must look at their privacy policies very closely. Information ethics will become more prominent as the Internet becomes more social. People are sharing things such as photos, likes and their daily thoughts now more than ever. Who knows, we may be at the peak of social information online? People may get turned off by sharing so much information, and we could be in for an information decline in the next few years.

Media Propaganda

Media Propaganda

When thinking about sensationalism and propaganda within media stories. A few instances stick out to me. The first example is when George Bush, our 43rd president, started campaigning to reform social security. His mission was to privatize social security due to the upcoming projected shortfalls in the social security funds.
The projections are that payroll taxes will only cover 75% of the scheduled social security payouts between 2033-2086. What George Bush was trying to do, was to get a higher return on the money in the trust, in order to help offset the remaining 25% shortfall.

I remember multiple media outlets were reporting how bad, or questionable, an idea this was. A particular news program showed the graph with the shortfall, and then said, “We only come up 25% short”. Of course this was right after the dot com bubble and nasdaq tech stock crash, so the media was playing off those fears. But I feel the main reason that social security reform failed, was because of the media.

Media has powerful effect on how we think, especially if we believe we are getting information from a trusted source that just reports the news. Of course, almost all media outlets put their own spin on the news, and report it how they see fit.
Another story that sticks out to me is when 60 minutes came to my hometown, Newton, IA in October of 2010. They were reporting on how angry people are at the economy and the government. They interviewed a few business owners and some local vocals who had been laid off, probably by Maytag a couple of years ago.

The story angered me, as a resident of Newton, because they only interviewed people who were out of work or had a suffering business. They didn’t interview me, who was doing great as a software engineer. They didn’t interview the former execs at Maytag who retired with boat loads of cash. They choose to interview the person who was out of work and angry at the government. I believe the quote from the person was, “The government needs to get us jobs!”.
The motivation behind each of these journalistic media reports was to influence people’s way of thinking. These stories had obvious spins to them.

Is spinning a story ethical? There is always an ethical dilemma when reporting what the facts are, and reporting what sells. Over time people tend not to trust any source of information that proves not to be ethical. When trust is lost, credibility is lost. When credibility is lost, sales suffer.

As a society I don’t feel we have a responsibility around how sensationalism and propaganda affects us, unless it is government sponsored. Privately sponsored messages can do whatever they’d like. After all most of it is just opinions. Free speech!
What crosses the line is when a government, such as North Korea, flat out lies to its people to influence their thinking. Then you are essentially brain washing your population. That is when it definitely crosses the line.

References:
Anger In The Land, 60 Minutes
October 2010

Social security debate in the United States, Wikipedia
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_Security_debate_in_the_United_States