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The Green Dam Cyber-Censor Case

As technology and its globalization become more ubiquitous and complex, software engineers and computer scientists face an increasing array of potential ethical dilemmas. It is impossible to know ahead of time how a given piece of software will be put to use, and what the implications of its use will be, but designers should consider such questions because they are in a unique position to flag potential faults and misuses. In general, society is best served if technologists don't wash their hands of non-technical questions, but engage in inquiry, or even advocacy, into technological outcomes that are ethically sound, contribute to society, and, at the very least, are not likely to do harm. Engaging in this sort of questioning and problem solving is not something engineers and scientists habitually do have a lot of practice with--it actually takes some effort to familiarize ourselves with issues and in general to keep our ethical thinking muscles in good shape. The following case study is presented to inspire you and your classmates to think about the ethical implications of software design by first elaborating on an actual case, and then by asking you to reflect on how you would react in certain situations involving ethical dilemmas. As dilemmas, they have no right answer--this is not a test to see how well you do. The purpose is to engage in the thought process itself.

Instructions:

  1. Case. Read the Case Introduction below. Then, according to your curiosity, look at the Links provided for more in-depth information.
  2. Forum. Go to the Discussion Forum to discuss the topic questions provided. (Your instructor will tell you the time frame for this activity.)

Case Introduction

Internet Cafe in China On June 9, 2009 the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) of the People’s Republic of China publicly released a directive stating that beginning July 1, 2009 all computers sold in GreenDam Girl China would be required to include Green Dam Youth Escort software, an internet filtering program that restricts access to objectionable material through a combination of keyword search restrictions and blocks of images containing large amounts of skin-toned colors.  There is concern that the software can be used by the government to monitor all internet use, and there is even suspicion that the software can be used to intrude on individuals' privacy in other ways.  The Ministry claimed that the Green Dam requirement was intended to prevent children from viewing violent and pornographic sites, but critics argued that the mandatory installation of Green Dam software represented a broad form of monitoring and censorship of internet use and content by the Chinese government, including politically-sensitive material.  At the time the official directive was released, only 20 days remained before the requirement went into effect, limiting time for public discussion and creating logistical difficulties for PC manufacturers.
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