Supp. Chapter 2, Lesson 1 Text

Lesson One: Ethical Use of Computers


Computers are powerful tools, especially in today’s advanced information age. The use of such tools should always be guided by good legal, ethical standards!

Ethical Behavior and Communication

The Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) has compiled a general list of good ethical practices for computer users and programmers. In this list they make the following important points for computer users, especially when working online:

Contribute PositivelyContribute positively to society and humanity with safe, legal, and responsible use of information and technology. We should always attempt to minimize negative consequences of computing systems, including threats to health and safety.
Do No HarmThis principle prohibits use of computing technology in ways that result in harm to users, the general public, employees, or employers. This speaks directly against the creation of viruses and malware.
Ensure Software ReliabilityAs a programmer, you must ensure that your software is able to perform its required functions under stated conditions for a specified period of time.
HonestyHonesty is always the best policy for programmers and computer users. Don't pretend to be someone else or promote software that does not work as advertised.
Respect Property RightsAlways honor property rights, including copyrights and patents. This principle speaks mainly about software piracy, or theft by copying software illegally.
Respect PrivacyAny use of a computer to steal and/or publish the private information of others is wrong and unethical. Any information that you have not been given explicit permission (from the owner) to use should be considered private information.
Respect ConfidentialityIf you have made an explicit promise to honor someone’s confidentiality or if you stumble across confidential information, you have a responsibility to honor that confidentiality.


The Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) was formed in 1947 to allow professionals in the (then) new field of computers to meet and share ideas. ACM continues this focus today, with members who are either CS or equivalent college graduates or experienced professionals in the field. Computer Science students are also welcome to join as Student Members!

Acceptable Use Policies and Terms of Service

When you are using a network or online service, you need to follow certain rules. The person or company that owns the network will set an "Acceptable Use Policy(AUP) that describes how their network should be used. For example, your school may run a network, and part of their Acceptable Use Policy may prevent you from downloading or storing any music files through the network. It may also prevent you from using the network to play online games.

You may use a wide variety of email, social media, and video services on the Internet. Each of these systems also has "Terms of Service(TOS) that describe how you are allowed to use them. You may be allowed to do certain things for free as an individual, but the terms of service may require businesses to pay for similar features. You may also agree to let those services study your activity for marketing and advertising purposes. The terms of service will almost certainly forbid any type of illegal activity, harassment, disrespect for property rights or any other unethical behavior.

Digital Etiquette (Netiquette)

Even if certain behavior is not expressly forbidden by an Acceptable Use Policy or Terms of Service, you may still want to avoid that behavior. This is similar to the way you interact with people face-to-face. While you are not legally required to say "please" and "thank you", doing so is considered to be good manners or etiquette. You should follow good digital etiquette or "netiquette" as well, even when not required.

These general rules are examples of good digital etiquette. Can you think of any other rules?

  • Don't type in all CAPITAL LETTERS. This is considered shouting.
  • Don't publish private email, conversations, or photographs for the world to see, without permission from all participants.
  • Don't use more resources than you need. For example, don't stream a movie to your computer if you are not watching it, as that movie takes up bandwidth that others may need to use. Similarly, even if you do want to use a resource, be considerate of others. Perhaps you can limit your network use to avoid using all of the bandwidth assigned to a larger group.
  • Avoid using bad language. Be mindful of your target audience, and use words and vocabulary appropriate for that audience. Also realize that others outside your intended audience (perhaps younger children) may still view your content.
  • Avoid posting off-topic comments to a forum or conversation thread. Stick to the point.
  • Use good grammar and spelling. Most email and social media clients will highlight your mistakes, so fix them before sending a message.
  • Above all else, don't say or do something to someone else online that you wouldn't say in person. Don't do something to others that you wouldn't want done to you!

Your Online Behavior

You have an opportunity to practice ethical behavior in your online activities every day. In fact, you are taking this course through an online system! Are your following ethical standards regarding your behavior, communication, and privacy in your online learning experience?

  • Your online behavior should follow ethical standards such as those described by the ACM above. For example, when using this online system, are you contributing positively, doing no harm, respecting privacy, and respecting privacy rights?
  • Your online login gives you access to your personal information such as user profile, quiz and test results, and project submissions. To protect your privacy and personal security, never share your login password with anyone else.
  • The course work you submit online may involve source code with comments, written and electronic documents, diagrams, and other kinds of technical communications. Are you using the appropriate vocabulary and terms in those submissions to describe your efforts? Do you write with the same clean and respectful language that you would use when speaking with anyone else?
  • You may receive a number of files downloaded from your online course, including sample files, starter projects, images, and other data. Are you treating those files as someone's copyrighted and intellectual property?
  • Are you sharing your course work files with other students outside of a group activity? The files you submit as your own for a project or activity should not be shared with anyone else unless directed by your teacher. The files you download through the online course, as well as the course material itself, should not be shared outside of the online learning environment.


Work with Me: Ethics Discussion

As a class, discuss answers to the following questions:

  • Have you always followed good legal and ethical rules when using online services?
  • What cases have you seen where others have not followed good digital etiquette?
  • Can you share any examples where your own online behavior has not been ethical?

Ask your teacher for a copy of the Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) for your school. Read it and see if any of the policies are surprising to you. Have you ever unknowingly used your computer for purposes that are against school policy?

Last modified: Sunday, 18 August 2019, 10:27 PM