Software development, law and ethics

1.      Consumer protection/contractual liability

You dream up a fantastic disk utility that speeds up hard disks by 300%, code it overnight, find that it works on your computer and instantly announce it to the world. It is offered for sale in Sydney to anyone that wants it over your web site.
However, you are really clever and see no need to leave any of your nifty ideas out, or remove debugging tools. So it seems to be so complicated to operate that many stupid, ignorant, illiterate people misunderstand its operation and end up deleting half their files, and turning the rest into permanently encrypted archives.
You have an End User License Agreement that anyone using it has to click yes to in order to operate it. In this, you say, "I am not responsible for anything stupid that you do, use it completely at your own risk. In case of dispute, this will be heard by the Court of Infinite Justice in Gauntanomo Bay Cuba, which is run by a friendly lawyer in the US as a commercial dispute resolution service, with no appeals anywhere."

2.      Anti-trust

You are working at a major OS developer.
There are concerns about market dominance and abuse of power. There is a competitor which has a well-respected utility which reads a new and popular form of message, such as a mobile phone picture message, which is just starting to take off, in a novel way.
You are told to work out a strategy that involves creating a new reader software architecture which will be bundled into the OS, and have other parts of the company work at altering the standard phone message protocol so that your software's messages will be able to read standard messages but standard software will not be able to read yours. You suspect this will be annoying to users, but your managers point out that everyone will have to use your software in the end, as you will bundle it.

3.      Privacy

You are a web system developer, and you are asked to create a web system that takes records of criminal court cases and enters the details of the offences people are charged with and makes them available, for a fee, to anyone.
v       Spent convictions
v       Privacy
v       Information completeness - acquittals

4.      Spam and email

You are asked to develop a system that tracks users of your employer's web site and work out, using a variety of really cool clever tricks, the email address of the person looking at a particular page, and create a file which records this, attempts to identify the person, and looks up a variety of public information via search engines and government registries.
The result is to compile a profile of the person, their interests and activities, so you can tailor individual messages to them which you then send to everyone's email address you can discover.
You are also asked whether this software that can be turned into a bot which is loaded onto the visitors computer, to save your server from having to do all the work, and extract addresses from their disk.


David Vaile
Cyberspace Law and Policy Community
Faculty of Law, University of NSW
T: (02) 9385 3589
E: d.vaile -at- unsw.edu.au
W: http://www.cyberlawcentre.org/it_ethics_and_law/