Business Ethics: Would You Have Written Such A Program?

I was recently approached by a client who wanted a custom Drupal module.The module was supposed to be a clone of Drupal's "Who's New" and "Who's Online" modules, but with user defined input. The specifications were that would be an admin defined list of users, and the module will select some of them at random. There would also be a user defined list of how many users to show online at a certain time (how many registered users, and how many guests). In other words, it would give a fake sense of the site being a very busy one.I politely told the person who requested this module that this amounts to deception. Their answer was it was like the opening day of a restaurant when it is packed with guests, but all of them are really relatives and friends of the owner who invited them for the opening night.I then recommended that if these two blocks give a sense of being "alone in a restaurant" then just disable them. I never heard back from him.Now that I think more about this, there are analogies elsewhere. I am not talking about the legality, since most of these acts are legal in many places. I am talking about the self respect and morality aspect of it. For example, writing software for a gambling web site. Or writing software for gambling machines. So is writing software for the "adult entertainment" industry and web sites.I find that some who engage in these less than savory activities justify it by saying "just doing my job" or "I am not engaging in the act myself".How about if someone is facilitating terrorism by running a web site to help terrorists communicate?

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Comments

Ethics

Would I (if I were a php programmer) write this module? No.

Would I work on an adult website? Sure.

I don't think nudity and porography are wrong. Some people do so doing that sort of work would seem unethical. I do think deception is wrong, therefore I wouldn't do the module work. However, what I'd find very interesting is how many people would find it unethical to lie, but would have no problem writing this module on the ground that they aren't lieing, just helping someone else.

ethics - about leaving the informed choice with the user

I do not think writing software for gambling sites is unethical - BUT writing 'rigged' gambling software certainly is. The user must know what the user is getting into - that is what matters. Then the choice is up to the user.

When a user decides whether to sign up for a site, the choice must be made as informed as possible, so *for sure* you did the right thing in not writing a module that would facilitate deceiving users.

Good article. I don't think

Good article. I don't think technology and the scientific subculture is an ends by itself. It's a means to improve this world. You did the right thing by not doing it, though you should have suggested alternatives instead of merely eliminating his decision.

Brian, I don't think doing otherwise would have been helping someone instead of helping deception. It would be a greater help to that client if he had found a better way to get more traffic to his site.

Ethics and Morals are relative

Ethics and morals are relative, despite the term "moral relativity" being a stigma for many these days.

Examples abound: what is immoral in one era/society can be perfectly acceptable in another (e.g. "living in sin" a few decades ago, vs. "common law" today, polygamy in some societies, consuming alcohol, marriage of siblings, marrying one's daughter, eating shellfish, ...etc.) All these were/are perfectly acceptable at some point in time/society.

The point was not this though. The points was that many would not engage in something but would facilitate this same thing. For example, if you ask the porn programmer if he would get in front of the camera, he would object, yet, he does not have a problem getting paid for something he would not do himself.

The same goes for the mafia bosses who would never dirty their hands, but give orders to intimidate and kill other people.

I hope it is clearer now.
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Khalid Baheyeldin

So your point was hypocrisy

So your point was hypocrisy ?

Anyway, I think your conclusion "morals are relative" is premature.

There are a number of universals, and when these are overridden it is usually by ethical not moral considerations. Incest taboo is an example.

Not really

Not really hypocrisy, but rather "I will not do it myself, but I have no qualms of doing it for others".

Of course there are some universals, such as not killing someone else. But these are fewer than what most people think ...
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Khalid Baheyeldin