Information Society and Ethics

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Information Society is a well-known paradigm, denoting a society which is based primarily on intellectual, intangible assets (knowledge-based economy), information-intensive services (business and property services, communications, finance, and insurance), and public sectors (education, public administration, health care). [1] The information society has already posed significant ethical problems. There is a need to establish so called information ethics, which should be able to address and solve the ethical problems appearing in the information society.

According to Richard Mason's seminal paper from 1986, "Four Ethical Issues of the Information Age," the four ethical problems of the information age are Privacy, Accuracy, Property and Accessibility. [2]

1. Privacy

Mason predicted two threats to privacy: the growth of information technology and the increased value of information in decision making. Those threats are completely realized today, as evidenced by the increasing appearance of various spyware. Spybots and cookies monitor users' actions on the Internet, and very often the technologies that users consider private are actually not.

In the case of medical information systems, while they were primarily intended to ensure that medical personnel have the best information available when treating patients, the huge databases which contain very sensitive patient data are not always correctly protected and used.

Other industries and professions also often maintain very large databases with sensitive customer and client data. Privacy protection of such data is not always considered properly.

2. Accuracy

Mason argued that when designing information systems, it is the designer's responsibility to be "vigilant in the pursuit of accuracy of information" because people might be harmed by inaccurate data. But this threat is not of such great significance today. Efforts have been made to avoid this type of problem. So, accidental inaccuracies in today's information systems are more of an inevitable annoyance than an ethical issue.

However, inaccuracy is an issue when dealing with intentional falsification of information such as identity theft. This problem belongs to security concerns about protecting customers' sensitive information and may be addressed by protection measures.

3. Property

Mason viewed intellectual property rights as "one of the most complex issues we face as a society." This threat is today realized through the possibilities of illegal downloading of software, music, and movies. With a rise in the number of torrents, the sharing of illegal media content is easy enough to accomplish for anyone with an Internet connection. The general opinion of satisfied users of illegal downloading is that such sharing is not unethical at all, but part of the "freedom of Dette er en sakalt velkomstbonus, men om du velger a sette inn mer penger, er casino online Euro en av casinoene som gir deg mest tilbake. information" on the Internet. The authors of media which are illegally shared have, of course, other opinions. They are losing money by such activities and see illegal downloading not only as an unethical issue, but also as a criminal act which has to be pursued by law enforcement.

4. Accessibility

Mason stated that literacy is humankind's main access to information. In today's world that means that computer literacy is very important. Mason mentioned the issue of the "digital divide," regarding the parts of the world which have access to the Internet and information systems as opposed to those parts of the world which do not have the possibility of such unrestricted access. The digital divide is a very real problem of today; there is an existing gap between those who are economically disadvantaged, preventing them from joining the global information world, and those who can financially afford to "get online."


The general conclusion is that Mason's four ethical issues are still valid in today's information society, even 26 years after they were originally discussed. They can still be used in the current context when discussing ethical issues in the information society. Specifics can change, but basic issues still hold true today. There will certainly appear new ethical issues which will have to be considered from a different point of view, such as so called "ethical hacking" as opposed to "malicious hacking," but ethical behavior in the information society will remain of significant concern and should be pursued further.



[1]L. Floridi, Foundations of Information Ethics, from The Handbook of Information and Computer Ethics, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2008.

[2] L.A. Freeman, A.G.Peace, Revisiting Mason: The Last 18 Years and Onward, from Information Ethics: Privacy and Intellectual Property, Information Science Publishing, 2005.


Suzana Stojaković – Čelustka, PhD is an expert in the field of information security. Some of her related duties were CEO of CARNet CERT (Croatian Academic and Research Network Computer Emergency Response Team) in 1997; CEO of CARNet Department for security of computer networks in 1998; assistant for information security related jobs in the Office for internetization of the Croatian Government from 2002 to 2004; senior advisor for information security in the Central State Office for e-Croatia, including development of the National program of information security in the Republic of Croatia from 2004 to 2006; and CISO (Chief Information Security Officer) in the Croatian Bank for Reconstruction and Development (current position).

She is also a lecturer on information security topics at various occasions and an editor at the Croatian Information Security Portal ( She received her BSEE and M.Sc. at the Faculty of Electrotechnical Engineering, University of Zagreb, Croatia, and her Ph.D at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering, Czech Technical University of Prague, Czech Republic. Her Ph.D thesis, Building Secure Information Systems, can be found at Her other interests include research in computer architecture, distributed systems (networking), algorithmics, artificial intelligence, and artificial life.

She is an active member of IFIP W.G. 9.6/11.7 (Working Group 9.6/11.7 - Information Technology Mis-Use and the Law, IFIP Technical Committee 9 - Relationship between Computers and Society) and IFIP W.G. 16.5 (Working Group 16.5 – Social and Ethical Issues in Entertainment Computing – IFIP Specialist Group on Entertainment Computing).