conference on ethical issues of the information society in January
colleague told me about family problems dealing with privacy in social
networks, and particularly on what his children do or do not with their
personal data. Young people, he said, are fascinated by the
offered by social networks, such as making friends, sharing personal
just having fun together. A young woman who was taking part at this
conversation said: "I never enter my real data, that is to say, I try
personal identification by giving, for instance, wrong data concerning
of birth or age or whatever." I told her: "This looks like a
imperative: ‘Learn to lie if you want to survive in a digital
bad for an ethicist," she said. Then she added: "But what happens if
everybody follows this maxime?" This is a Kantian question, of course.
very bad – not only for Mr Zuckerberg.
February 8, 2011 was "Safer Internet Day" organised
by Insafe "to
promote safer and more responsible use of online technology and mobile
especially amongst children and young people across the world" this
the slogan "It’s more than a game, it’s your life." The present debate
should better say, the present obsession over privacy and security is
shaping freedom in the digital age. It is still unclear what is
impact of ICT and particularly of social media such as Twitter or
recent social protests for instance in the Near
(Wikipedia 2011). But it seems unquestionable that ICT is changing the
relationships" or the "in-between" that binds us, to put it in Hannah
terms (Arendt 1998, 182). What makes this debate on ICT and social life
the fact that it takes place at a local and global level with different
of synergy related to questions of friendship and fun no less than of
and justice. It is a debate about possible shapes of the "vita activa"
Arendt) in the digital age. It starts at a very young age when kids
online (Insafe 2011). Sherry Turkle has analyzed the paradoxes arising
what she calls being "alone together" (Turkle 2011). Maybe it is not so
the fear of being alone but of being lonely and isolated or even
social relationships. We do not learn to be alone but we do learn new
ways of being together (Capurro 1995). We look for new codes of
being together. They arise from a broad social and academic debate
where traditional norms and rules are challenged and 'good practices'
are analyzed. These
questions are at the core of the academic debate on information ethics
(Himma and Tavani 2008).
On Information Ethics and Information Moralities
of ethics as an academic discipline is to problematize a given
alternative is a sclerotic social life in which a morality with its
taboos, values and bias of all kinds, is considered as obvious and
being mostly used as power instrument to legitimate hierarchies and
Morality and ethics as its catalyst are essential for survival in a
as any living organism needs an immune system in order to deal with the
Information ethics is the academic discipline
dealing with the critical
reflection on information moralities, particularly but not restricted
impact of ICT on norms and values in human communication. In a broader
information ethics deals with comparative descriptive and normative
information moralities related to other media and as well as to
epochs and cultures. Eventually, information ethics might address today
impact of ICT on norms and values in all areas of human society
interaction with nature and non-human living beings.
The difference between ethics (philosophia
or moral philosophy – that together with the reflection on
politics (philosophia politiké) and on the
the house (philosophia oikonomiké) belong to
Aristotle calls practical philosophy (philosophia
praktiké) – and morality
(Greek: ethos, Latin: mores) is
essential in order not to confuse a theory with
object. In everyday life, and sometimes also in academia, both terms,
and morality, are used as synonyms, thereby creating confusion. Ethics
sometimes into moral ones. In today's understanding, ethics deals with
the whole of human action in all its spheres (individual, group,
society) within the limits of the conditio
humana. The so-called applied ethics, such as bioethics,
business ethics, ecological ethics etc., take a specific perspective on
such spheres of human practices.
On Privacy and Secrecy
book "Privacy in Context" media theorist Helen Nissenbaum rightly
dichotomy as detached from specific contexts. Within such contexts,
provide the framework for what she calls "contextual integrity."
writes, "are structured social settings characterized by canonical
roles, relationships, power structures, norms (or rules), and internal
(goals, ends, purposes)." (Nissenbaum 2010, 132). Niklas Luhmann's
system theory calls such contexts "systems" (Luhmann 1996). This is a
perspective that Nissenbaum also implicitly shares with hermeneutics
which the process of understanding a text in what it says and what
hidden is related to a framework of
"pre-understanding" of both, the author and the reader, that can be
explicit through interpretation, leading to understanding and to a new
pre-understanding. Philosophical hermeneutics, as developed by
Gadamer (1975) following Heidegger’s existential hermeneutics, further
developed this issue with regard to our own understanding as human
encounter between existential hermeneutics and the theory of
computerized information storage
retrieval in the 1980s (Capurro 1986, Winograd and Flores 1986) was
a forerunner of Nissenbaum's contextual thinking. The success of the
WWW is due not only to its globality but also to its locality. New
mobile applications allowing to physically localize people as well as
any kind of objects show clearly the relevance of contextuality.
Social life is about concealing and unconcealing who we are according
to different forms of trust and security.
We are neither a society of angels nor one of devils, neither a fully
open society nor a secret one. This is the reason why the difference
between public and private as
between public and secret is so relevant for every human society
(Capurro and Capurro 2007). The
of public and private do not refer to properties of data. They are not
concepts. Data and their properties play different roles related to
conceal and unconceal in different contexts of social life. Public vs
no less than public vs secret are second-order concepts. In other
understanding with regard to the data depends on the specific social
This contextual relativity should not be misunderstood at the normative
as a moral relativism but as a necessity to specify which norms and
at stake in a specific context. Let us take for instance the proposal
colleague ‘never enter your real data’ in, for instance, an online
like Facebook and in a
scientific community. Am I morally obliged to
my personal data in a context dealing with fun and friendship
following, for instance, Facebook's
"Statement of Rights and Resonsibilities" (Facebook 2011)? Can I
my real identity, my name for instance, using a pseudonym? If such a
not specified by the community nothing seems to be against it. I am not
in this case but just playing a social game although the creator of the
software might expect the contrary and try to use my data for other
virtual friends may or may not expect that my data are correct or that
I might conceal
or change them. In case of the scientific community its ethos
implies that I do not conceal my name except, for instance,
with regard to exceptional political situations (Strauss 1988). This
applies vice versa: I should not omit or conceal my sources,
particularly in the
case of quotations but also of giving credit to authors that are the
source of ‘my’ ideas. Plagiarism in science is no less morally and
reprehensible than fakes in industry and the arts.The
question as to whether
my name, address, affiliation and so on are private or public, or if I
may conceal or reveal them depends on the context in which they
This takes us to the problem of "maintaining
multiple personas online"
as Michael Zimmer remarks with regard to his ambiguous experiences with
a platform that makes it possible to separate, for instance, personal
professional lives, which is difficult to do with Facebook (Zimmer
2008; Naone 2008). The
problem is, as Zimmer remarks, "[w]hile I can set the privacy levels
profile, Moli gets
to see it all… all
linked to my single account with a common e-mail address, zip code,
and gender." (ibid.) This case clearly shows the problems of data
and data exchange between different contexts. In this case it is a
matter of a
commercial platform but what if this is done by political power?
What lessons can we learn so far? We live in a digital era in which the
habeas corpus mutates into habeas
data (EGE 2005, 29): ‘We shall not lay
digital hand upon thee.’ But the question
is how this legal procedure can be applied in a globalized world, or,
this ‘we’ and what kind of ‘hands’ can be laid upon which (digital)
other words, the question of informed consent, a leading principle in
ethics, should be a major technical, ethical, and legal issue with
regard to all
kinds of personal data in different contexts.
imperative: ‘Learn to contextualize!’ is an educational problem
starting at a
very early age. Where it is said: ‘enter your name’ you should enter
nickname. It is just for fun, after all. This is a kind of guerilla
tactic in a
complex digital environment that might help to make not so easy the
between data coming from different contexts without the explicit
consent of the
person(s) or institutions involved. The design of platforms for
young people can provide different ways of
making this contextuality technically
possible and understandable. But this needs a complement in moral and
at home and in school. Guerrilla tactics is in some way a fight against
giants. It needs a legal supplement making the case of data migration
contexts an issue for the legal protection of individual freedom. Data
about freedom not just about data. Allowing political, commercial and
unlimited access and transfer of data arising from different
different moral and legal rules means nothing less than undermining
"contextual integrity" and it can be a precursor of
kinds of digital totalitarianism. This is particularly the case when
human being can be
identified and this code becomes even a legal must for all kinds of
whatever context and for whatever purpose.
to Michael Eldred (Cologne) and Daniel Nagel (Stuttgart) for their
corrections and suggestions.
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Condition. Chicago: The University
of Chicago Press.
Capurro, Rafael (1995). Leben im
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Capurro, Rafael (1986). Hermeneutik der
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Raquel (2007). Secreto,
lenguaje y memoria en la sociedad de la información.
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Science and New Technologies) (2005). Ethical
Aspects of ICT Implants in the
Body. Opinion No. 20.
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Maintaining Multiple Personas Online, Sharing More Personal Information.
update: September 30, 2015