Saturday, November 2, 2013

The I.T. Ethical Debate that Needs to Happen

I did a talk for AuckLUG last night on the Manaiakalani project. It was kind of funny. I started by asking if anyone knew anything about the Manaiakalani project and one guy said "I know you've been working on it for the last few years" and that was it... So no one had come along for the "talk" - for which I hadn't prepared anything anyway. I was amused at the very least - the very few people who turned up were there for the social aspect of it.

At one point someone asked me about root access. Do kids have root access on the devices? Absolutely. They're their devices (the netbooks... It's a different story with Chromebooks). This to me is an ethical thing.

It is completely outside my sense of ... morality to take a device that's owned by someone and locking that someone out of it. It's much the same reason why I hate iDevices, the way that people deal with Windows and why I'm often butting heads with I.T. security people.

There was a guy there. I had just told him that the sky was pink with purple polka dots. The idea that I would find it immoral to lock people out of their machines was almost foreign to him. I mean, he was coming at me from a completely respectful place but he just didn't quite understand.

And then, this morning, I think I understood where he's coming from. There's another big side to this debate. I think part of what alluded me to it was a comment he made about Windows XP - that it's going. It's finally going to be completely unsupported. I said something about how that marked a fundamental shift in usability and he laughed. Where I consider usability first, he considers security first. So we're there looking at the same problem from different perspectives.

So... the big ethical debate:

On my side, I have usability and questions of ownership. I would assert that if someone's paid for a computer, that device is their's. Furthermore, we shouldn't try and make it harder for them to use.

vs.

If you were a plumber and you found a leak, it would be a moral obligation to seal that leak. Leaving that leak in the pipes would just be a dick move. So if you know of exploits in an operating system, it's incumbent on you to fix it.

The question is, does fixing the leak have to come at the price of usability? And what if it's not a leak but rather, the tap... Bear with me for a second... It's found that a tap could be turned on and used to fill a tub which an infant could then drown in. So the tap's the problem right? Or the tub? To fix the problem there are two approaches.... we could poke holes in the tub to stop it from ever being filled, or we could disable the tap... We don't ever consider the social issue in that the users of the tap could be asked not to leave tubs of water around the place because we're computer people...

So to me, I think the debate needs to be had. Instead of pulling out the magic trump card "it's security", an actual weighing up of the benefits and minuses...

So despite my disappointment and amusement, I learnt something!

If anyone is interested... I have started putting up a little bit of code for Tartare Source (it's just gherkin at the moment). You can have a look at the code here.

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