The internet is a revolutionary medium of human interaction, which provides people a multi use, interactive link to exchange information, services, business as well as goods. Its appeal lies in easy to access, open architecture as well as culture and egalitarian right to use to people and organizations. The internet emerged as a military command network, developed by the US Department of Defense’s Advanced Research Projects Agency and was called as Arpanet. (Darlington, 2002). Its growth after it was first fielded in 1969 was rapid.
It gradually spread to the academic circles in America where it enabled easy sharing of knowledge. This was followed by newsgroups and then the World Wide Web, the most significant use of the internet was discovered in 1989, which set off what is now known as the internet revolution. (Darlington, 2002). Today internet is virtually indispensable for a large mass of people be it academics, researchers, businessmen, lawyers or government servants and particularly in the European Union (EU) where a very high degree of connectivity has been provided to people.
It is not just a means of exchange of information but also that of communications with the growth of the Internet Protocol (IP). (Darlington, 2002). The internet also has its downsides. It has essentially raised a number of issues of ethics. The first and foremost is that of privacy. When a person shares his personal information on the internet, he is increasingly vulnerable to its exploitation by a large number of unscrupulous traders, fraudsters, scamsters and even perfectly honorable citizens, such as lawyers and health researchers. (Darlington, 2002).
The issue of child pornography and pedophilia on the net is too well known to need recounting. Proliferation of the internet has also been seen in EU which is affecting the lives of thousands of people in the area. Thus the two opposites of mass availability of the internet, uses and abuses will be explored herein. Three Arguments for the Use of Internet The internet as a form of communications has existed for the past two decades. It provides multiple means of interactions, such as e mail, chat, telephony and instant messaging. (Darlington, 2002).
The speed, efficiency and profligacy of the internet in this mode have led to millions of people across the World being connected seamlessly. This has resulted in the proliferation of knowledge, social interaction and business. Thus it will not be prudent to deny the liberating influences of internet to the common user by laying any ethical or technical restrictions on its growth. Internet leads to spread of knowledge through the many forms of content that is enabled by it. The internet is the largest source of archived information. (Eysenbach. Till, 2001).
Knowledge flows are multifarious on the internet. Whether it is the newsgroups, e mails or the World Wide Web, internet has the capability to touch and change the lives of hundreds and thousands of people by providing them information for their betterment. (Darlington, 2002) Such an advantage is widely available to the people of EU. E mail enables communication instantly across the globe and at extremely low or even negligible costs. (Darlington, 2002). This is particularly significant for young researchers who do not have the resources to interact effectively with their counter parts across the globe.
The internet relay chat groups are small communities of researchers who are totally devoted to a particular subject and which provides these communities the ability to link with each other to generate in depth knowledge on a particular subject. (Darlington, 2002). There is no such equivalent means which was available before the advent of the internet and hence it is a certain boon to the researchers. The Usenet newsgroups are another facet which is also focused on certain subjects but which enables people to post their comments, pictures, thoughts and views, thereby leading to greater exploration and understanding of these issues. Darlington, 2002). The qualitative content of such groups has surprised many of the experts in respective fields such as physicians on medical information. (Eysenbach. Till, 2001). The Usernet groups are also supported by blogs on specific subjects which enable researchers as well as common people to bring out their experiences to enrich others with similar interests. (Eysenbach. Till, 2001). The ultimate creator of knowledge is the World Wide Web which has the power to provide people information about any subject on the earth at any point of the globe as far as it has connectivity.
Since the times of the ancient civilizations, Greek, Egyptian and Indian, spread of knowledge has been the key concern of humanity. It is for the first time, that internet has achieved this dream and hence it cannot be restricted in any form now. The same forms of exchanges provided to the researcher also develop social interaction. With a globalised world people spread across the world interact through the internet. Internet chat rooms are the best form of social communication between friends, relatives, near and dear ones who may be separated by hundreds of kilometers yet are connected instantly. Darlington, 2002). It develops very effective bonds of friendship and provides people emotional and social confidence. The most significant issue herein is the ease and the speed with which such communication can be established and conducted in real time. Another issue is the significant support that is provided to people at health risk such as breast cancer patients who can share their fears more easily over the internet. (Eysenbach. Till, 2001). The denial of such means of social interaction has been attempted in some communities and countries which is wholly unjustified and cannot be accepted as ethical.
It is essentially denying people their basic right to choose their friends, people with whom they want to and can interact. The most popular use of the internet is in the field of commerce. There are hundreds and thousands of web sites which are providing business to business (b2b) or business to consumer (b2c) linkages. They have empowered both the consumer as well as the business by providing each information of the other. Thus the customer is provided the best information available of the goods traded in the market at the most reasonable price and the alternate choices that are available in the same or other segments.
Businesses are provided an opportunity to reach out to the clientele offering them the best services thereby overcoming the hegemony of monopolies and establishing an even field for all players, big as well as the small. The large number of web sites cater for hundreds and thousands of customers each day. They are also many who provide specialized services to a niche segment specifically in the EU area, thereby providing an economical and effective source for display and procurement of goods for the customer.
This benefit is a fair one and is a unique contribution of the internet for the economic good of humanity and hence cannot be denied to the people by placing any restrictions. Three Arguments against Mass Use of Internet As in any field of human endeavor, the good is generally followed by the bad. Thus we see that the growth of internet is accompanied by a number of its downsides which needs ethical considerations before acceptance as universal.
The key ethical consideration against mass use of the internet relating to the area of EU and to include the spread of knowledge, social communications and business are covered in succeeding paragraphs. The greatest concern of ethical significance of the internet is the issue of privacy. Whether it is business, social interaction or spread of knowledge, privacy remains a key ethical issue which has been raised by the internet. It has even greater relevance in the EU where a borderless world has enhanced connectivity exposing more people to invasions of their privacy.
There is no assurance on the internet that the data and personal details that have been shared by a person with a particular individual or a group have not been passed on either deliberately or inadvertently to another interested party who may exploit the same for ulterior purposes. (Ethical Issues, nd). Thus, “informed consent and privacy” is important not only in business but also in knowledge building and research particularly in health related issues where patient information can be shared between doctors to the embarrassment of the individuals concerned who may not like their health profiles being displayed in the public domain. Eysenbach. Till, 2001). Plagiarism is a great concern raised by the internet which has particularly affected the academic community. (Ethical Issues, nd). Copyright laws are another issue which is evident in the proliferation of the internet. For example, the Church has raised the issue of different laws in different countries.
While, the copyright for the Book of Common Prayer and the Authorized Version of the Bible is held by the Crown in the United Kingdom it is easily accessible in the United States, making a virtual mockery of the copyright laws. Ethical Issues, nd). It is therefore important that a balance should be achieved between what is made available in the interest of public good and what should remain in the domain of privacy and copyright laws. (Mann. Stewart, 2000). The issues in social interaction are equally serious inasmuch as internet ethics are concerned. Masquerading is a common phenomenon which is not practicable to detect in the first few exchanges on the net. Thus people can easily pose as someone they are not, which can also lead to another of the ills, stalking. Ethical Issues, nd). Cyber stalking is a menace which despite the relatively nascent stage of the internet has assumed dangerous proportions and in the case of the EU, with excellent physical communication links across Europe has the potential to graduate to objective persecution. Hate mongering is another critical issue of concern which can be easier on the internet as communities of like minded people can be formed much more without difficulty. (Ethical Issues, nd).
On the other hand even large business web sites such as Yahoo have been charged in France with hurting the sentiments of the French Jewish community by hosting a site auctioning Nazi items. (Akdeniz, 2001). It was only after an intense court battle and pressure from the public that the web site which claimed that it was headquartered in the United States and thus not liable for jurisdiction under French laws removed the offensive material. It has now filed a suit in the US on the issue. (Darlington, 2002). The issue of ethics and the internet is considerably sharpened as the misuse of the net for business purposes is examined.
Internet marketers and online advertisers in constant need to increase their online sales and traffic to generate more business are prone to violate common business laws and ethical considerations. (Warholic, 2005a). Ethics as is commonly known and when related to internet business has been defined by Warholic (2005) as “the rules or standards governing the conduct of a person or the conduct of the members of a profession”. When these standards are applied to business on the internet, a number of ethical issues are likely to be raised.
With the borderless trade offered by the net, there is a scope for net based businesses violating laws of a particular country with impunity. The Yahoo court case in France is its most singular example. (Akdeniz, 2001). Similarly online casinos provide an option for gambling to people of a country where it is not considered legal as well as moral, on the internet. (Ethical Issues, nd). The rules and regulations for web business are still not formulated thereby providing unscrupulous business men many loop holes. The e commerce web site can frequently display information which is not as per marketing ethics.
These can also lead to infringement of trade secrets as well as intellectual property rights. (Warholic, 2005). Since internet trading is international, even international issues on trade and tariffs are involved while conducting business which is frequently ignored. There is limited legal recompense for the people staying in EU for a web site which has conducted fraudulent trade when based in any other country and this is being frequently taken advantage of. The need is therefore to ensure that adequate consumer awareness is demonstrated before allowing proliferation.
Identity theft and internet fraud is another key issue which needs to be of concern, particularly of communities as the EU. Given the reach of the internet, there are a number of issues which are of ethical concern to the populace of EU. Some of the key issues observed from both the perspectives of usage and abusage have been examined so that a critical view can be obtained. The dilemma of the internet is that any restrictions placed on its free usage are likely to reduce the advantages accruing thereof, however enlightened policies and jurisprudence of which EU is well known can overcome this encumberance.