Ethics and Privacy
Both privacy and ethics are important considerations for anyone using technology as a communication tool. Indeed, these concepts apply to the general public, as well as to specific groups such as technical communicators. Perhaps the demographic of people who are especially impacted by privacy and ethics are those who are relatively new to technology. That is, people who are new to the internet (i.e., an inmate realesed after 20 years) may not always realize how much information they are giving out when using the internet, and how easily that information may be used negatively against them. For example, while all the credit card companies, banks etc., claim their online security is fail safe, hackers consistently prove otherwise. Those same individuals who are not aware of online risks involving identity theft and other scams may also not realize that the record of their email messages exist in cyberspace forever. Thus, they may not realize that what they write needs to be ethical—especially when the email generates from a workplace account.
Chapter 9 in Digital Ligeracy For Technical Communicators by Steven Katz and Vicki Rhodes and the article, Privacy, Trust, and Disclosure Online by Paine and Joinson shed light on these topics. While Chapter 9 was fairly dense with academic, philosophical, and ethical jargon, the notion that technology creates new ethical considerations for communicators is an important concern that should be taught to new employees that are expected to participate in technological communication mediums. One of my first real-world experiences with ethics and technology took place a few years ago when I was involved with a professional class in an industrial setting.
This class was designed to teach employees about email etiquette and was the result of inappropriate email use on company time. Several employees were essentially carrying on personal conversations about weekend activities and so on that was inappropriate for this work setting. In addition, these employees did not understand the blind copy function of their email system, and were thus, at times, accidentally emailing information to clients that also were inappropriate.
This problem was two-fold: 1) the employees failed to consider their workplace ethics of being professional at all times, and 2) these employees did not understand the implications of email as a communication medium. Whereas these employees could have probably talked amongst themselves face-to-face about these topics during lunch or breaks, it was not appropriate to use the organization’s email for such conversation, which they did not understand. This problem may have been avoided, had this company made clear their expectations of workplace email use. Moreover, companies may benefit from addressing their ethical expectations—if these expectations are not promoted and taught to employees, than the ethics will be nothing but a basis for discipline after a rule is broken, rather than a means to prevent issues from arising in the first place.