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Data and Personal Privacy & the Ethical and Social Implications of Computing Systems

Learn about how programs have both a positive and negative impact on personal privacy as well as social and ethical implications.

Think of a set of dominos carefully and elaborately set up in space. All it takes is a single push, intentional or accidental, for a rapid and massive chain reaction to take place. Once the first domino falls, we don’t have much (or any, really) control of what happens next. Whether or not this is what we intended to have happened, we’re still left with a bunch of knocked-over dominos on the floor.

Technology and software have had an undeniable impact on how we live our lives. In this article, we’ll scratch the surface of the beneficial and harmful impacts of technology in regards to data and personal privacy as well as the ethical and social implications of computing systems.

Data and Personal Privacy

It’s amazing to think about how much data each individual person has generated in the world of software. Curious? You can download all your Google data or Facebook data to see just how much information is stored about you.

Your data can create a personalized online experience that is completely unique to you. This can include advertisements from local restaurants, personalized playlists based on the music you recently listened to, event recommendations based on functions you’ve attended, and more. Even though this personalized experience creates a lot of conveniences, it’s important to ask questions like who owns this data and has access to it? Does the collecting and storing of personal data put your personal security at risk?

For example, what if your information is acquired by a third-party company you know nothing about? Think about the Facebook - Cambridge Analytica data scandal in which the personal data of millions of Facebook users was acquired without consent and used for political advertising. What was the impact of that scandal?

Even though the data collected by a company like Facebook can be used to create unique and personalized experiences, there is always a level of risk when allowing a company to collect and store your personal data. As programmers, we have a responsibility to create programs that protect the stored data of other users and to be aware of any privacy risks our own software contains.

System Reliability

Similar to a random domino falling and causing havoc on our domino set up, software and technology doesn’t always behave the way we expect it to. System reliability is the probability that a technology(software, hardware, etc.) will work the way it is intended to.

Would you want to use a product that works 70% of the time? Think about it this way: how confident would you feel in a driverless car that gets you safely to your destination only 70% of the time? When creating a product, you should strive to make an effort to maximize system reliability.

There is also a responsibility as a programmer to be aware of any intellectual property concerns and legal issues that could occur. Intellectual property is the property rights of something created by the human mind. There are four categories of intellectual property:

  • Trade secrets or private information about a business
  • Trademarks
  • Patents
  • Copyright

It’s important to note that if your program violates any intellectual property rights, either by accident or on purpose, legal action may occur.

Ethical and Social Impacts of Computing Systems

Software now has a pretty big say in how we live our everyday lives. Programming has impacted our culture, our economy, and our society. These impacts have been both beneficial and detrimental. Here are a few high-level examples:

  • Machine learning: While there are positives to pattern identification and automation, there is a problem with data bias and its impact on marginalized communities.
  • Social media: We live in an age of social connectivity, but are dealing with widespread misinformation.
  • The decisions of AI: For example, should a driverless car make choices that protect the life of the passenger over the life of another driver or a pedestrian?

We here at Codecademy are not the final say in the ethics of computing. There are many ways to interpret the impact of a single software. We encourage you to research these issues and always, always, always, ask questions, and seek answers about the impacts of technology.

Conclusion

Remember, the software that brings our technology to life has real-world consequences. There have been both positive and negative impacts of software when it comes to personal privacy as well as social and ethical implications. As programmers, we have a responsibility to understand these impacts and to do what we can to ensure a safe experience for users.

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