Tuesday, April 6, 2010
The ACM Code of Ethics Applied to the Google vs China debate
A company like Google must have significant trust with all second and third parties, as well as within itself, to continue as a business. To ensure that trust, Google would need to have a code of ethical conduct for all its constituents to abide by. The ACM's code of ethics for computing is a model applicable to any profession, so from an ethical point of view, it can be used to understand Google's recent decision to cut off China. The hacking attacks on Google's intellectual property threatened not only Google's trade secrets but its status as a trustworthy business collaborator and the security of all its customers. Under ACM ethics, Google would be duty-bound to protect its customers by eliminating the threat1. The attacks specifically targeted customers who had human rights agendas, working against the ACM principles of bettering society and doing no harm to others. Google realizes that no matter the business losses of cutting ties with China, it cannot afford to lose its reputation. Considering the concept of PageRank as an example, reputation and trust are the principles that e-commerce is built upon, without which it ceases to function as legitimate commercial platform. Besides duty to its own investors, Google has a duty to society to support and protect human rights, just as any entity does, regardless of the entity's acknowledgment of that duty.
1. It is not known if the attacks on Google were commissioned by the Chinese government, but Google had to make a judgment call to ensure the safety of its customers. It would be unjust if the Chinese government has been framed. However, the People's Republic of China has such a bad human rights track reputation, it has profiled itself in this criminal case. In other words, it has a lot of explaining to do. Furthermore, Google has a right to do business or cut ties with anyone they choose, unless dictated otherwise by contract.