Information Technology and Ethics/Software Engineering Ethics and Professional Practices

Software Engineering Ethics and Professional Practices edit

Software engineering conceives of itself primarily as a technical discipline that develops software. But billions of people depend on software systems to effectively conduct their daily lives, this has led many in computing to give more attention to the nontechnical aspects and to wrestle with the ethical impact of their daily decisions and the values imbedded therein. The relationship between computers and ethics can be described as occurring when humans make decisions about computers, and those decisions affect people's lives.[1] Because of the implications computers and software can have on the daily lives of people there then stands to say that there should be some governing force behind the software which is being produced. This brings about the field of software engineering ethics. It has been defined as the application of both computer science and engineering philosophy, principles, and practices to the design and development of software systems.[2] A software engineer has a certain responsibility to their profession, the software they produce should be reliable, as well as economical. But even more than producing reliable, working software, a software engineer has more responsibilities to their colleagues, their clients, and all involved.

These responsibilities formulated in the Software Engineering Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct[3] were summarized as: Software engineers shall commit themselves to making the analysis, specification, design, development, testing and maintenance of software a beneficial and respected profession. In accordance with their commitment to the health, safety and welfare of the public, software engineers shall adhere to the following Eight Principles:

  1. PUBLIC - Software engineers shall act consistently with the public interest.
  2. CLIENT AND EMPLOYER - Software engineers shall act in a manner that is in the best interests of their client or employer and that is consistent with the public interest.
  3. PRODUCT - Software engineers shall ensure that their products and related modifications meet the highest professional standards possible.
  4. JUDGMENT - Software engineers shall maintain integrity and independence in their professional judgment.
  5. MANAGEMENT - Software engineering managers and leaders shall subscribe to and promote an ethical approach to the management of software development and maintenance.
  6. PROFESSION - Software engineers shall advance the integrity and reputation of the profession consistent with the public interest.
  7. COLLEAGUES - Software engineers shall be fair to and supportive of their colleagues.
  8. SELF - Software engineers shall participate in lifelong learning regarding the practice of their profession and promote an ethical approach to the practice of the
  9. Profession. [3]

This set of principles, developed and reviewed by software engineers from every continent expresses the software engineers commitment to a level of professional care

Software Engineer Ethical Dilemma edit

Software engineering is a process that related to developing a program, transferring,  and manipulating information. In software development, developers mostly work together as a team in an organization. However, each member sometimes has different perspectives and objectives. These could potentially lead to ethical dilemmas occurring during the software development process. An ethical dilemma will be able to happen when no correct choices in decision making. It means that any selected decision will have negative effects on either others or self[4]. For example, a company has to develop a product regarding a safety-critical system. Due to the time limit on the software development contract, the employer wants his engineer to ignore some safety validation records in order to release the product on time. This arises a question that “the engineer’s responsibility to maintain confidentiality or to alert the customer or publicize, in some way, that the delivered system may be unsafe?”  The software engineer is facing the ethical dilemma at this point. If he discloses this issue, it will damage the employer and other employees. On the other hand, he does not do that the damage may occur to the clients or others[5].

Case Study - Volkswagen Emissions Scandal edit

In September 2015, it was revealed that German automaker company Volkswagen Group was intentionally programming their diesel engine vehicles to activate emission controls only during laboratory emissions tastings. This software caused the vehicles' NOx output to meet the U.S. standards only during the testing sessions, while the vehicles themselves output more than 40 times more NOx when driving.[6] This software was deployed to some 11 millions cars worldwide during the model years 2009-2015.[7] [8]

It was first reported that nine managers were suspended for the deception. During a U.S. House subcommittee hearing, Volkswagen's U.S. chief executive Michael Horn stated "This was a couple of software engineers who put this in for whatever reason. To my understanding, this was not a corporate decision. This was something individuals did." [9] It was later revealed by the law firm Jones Day that fifty staff members, mostly in Wolfsburg, confessed that they were aware of the bogus software. Shortly after the scandal became public, CEO Martin Winterkorn stepped down while stating he was unaware of the diesel scandal.

While the exact reason for creating this software is unknown, industry experts believe that a technological shortcoming prompted Volkswagen to cheat their emission tests.[10] In December of 2015, Hand-Dieter Pötsch, a chairman of Volkswagen, stated to the public that a group of Volkswagen engineers made decision to rig diesel emission tests in 2005 when the United States EPA imposed the toughest emission standards to the automobile industry. The engineers were not able to meet the requirements in the allotted time and budget. After a few years, the engineers did manage to find a solution to their emissions standards problem, but opted to rig the test rather than implementing the solution. Another possible reason for this scandal could come from Volkswagen's toxic work culture. Volkswagen's human resource practices are such that managers tell employees to consider the task again, and if the employee is not capable of completing said task, there are always more candidates who can. Thus, Volkswagen employees find themselves stuck in a situation where maintaining a job is a concern, it left them very little choice.[11]

In the following years, Volkswagen reported that the scandal cost them 31.3 billion euros ($34.69 billion). Additionally, in 2017, a string of arrests were made among former top managers and executives, including then CEO Martin Winterkorn, though he still denies any knowledge of the rigged tests.[12][13]

References edit

  1. Gotterbarn, D. (2002). SOFTWARE ENGINEERING ETHICS.
  2. Software engineering professionalism
  3. Code of Ethics | IEEE Computer Society.
  4. Aliti, A. (2017). Ethical dilemmas of software engineers. Dilemmas 2015 Papers from the 18th Annual International Conference Dilemmas for Human Services: Organizing, Designing and Managing.
  5. Sommervile, I. (2016). Software engineering (10th ed.). Pearson.
  6. "EPA, California Notify Volkswagen of Clean Air Act Violations / Carmaker allegedly used software that circumvents emissions testing for certain air pollutants". US: EPA. 18 September 2015. Archived from the original on 2 March 2017.
  7. Ewing, Jack (22 September 2015). "Volkswagen Says 11 Million Cars Worldwide Are Affected in Diesel Deception". The New York Times.
  8. "EPA, California Notify Volkswagen of Clean Air Act Violations / Carmaker allegedly used software that circumvents emissions testing for certain air pollutants". US: EPA. 18 September 2015. Archived from the original on 2 March 2017.
  9. Puzzanghera, J., & Hirsch, J. (2015, October 9). VW exec blames “a couple of” rogue engineers for emissions scandal. Los Angeles Times.
  10. Boston, W., Varnholt, H., & Sloat, S. (2015, December 10). Volkswagen Blames ‘Chain of Mistakes’ for Emissions Scandal. WSJ.
  11. Sherk, J. (2014, March 14). Expand Employee Participation in the Workplace. The Heritage Foundation.
  12. Ewing, J. (2018, May 4). Ex-Volkswagen C.E.O. Charged With Fraud Over Diesel Emissions. The New York Times.
  13. Mansouri, N. (2016). A Case Study of Volkswagen Unethical Practice in Diesel Emission Test. International Journal of Science and Engineering Applications, 5(4), 211–216.

External links edit