Digital Information and the Commodification of the Private Sphere

Saturday, June 25, 2016: 2:30 PM-4:00 PM
205 South Hall (South Hall)
Christine Boshuijzen - van Burken, Linnaeus University, Vxj, Sweden
Darek M. Haftor, Linnaeus University, Vxj, Sweden
Information is everywhere, stored and shared on the internet and on local servers owned by governmental bodies, private users, organizations, institutions and companies. For decades there have been discussions on the functional, social, legal and ethical issues around the topic of ‘information’. In this paper we intend to formulate a theoretical framework aimed to guide our understanding of the ethics of digitalized information, as the existing theoretical frameworks (e.g. Nissenbaum 2011, Floridi 2003, Johnson and Miller 2008) are insufficient to provide moral and normative comprehension of the use of contemporary digital technologies and their information. Example of such include mobile and networked digital technologies employed in healthcare practices, novel digital business models such as the UberTaxi, Airbnb and firms that collect, analyse and use a never before witnessed amount of digitalized customer information. These new social and business practices give rise to new potential patterns of digital information use that were not possible before the advent of contemporary digital technologies, where such novel use of digital information may be utilized for better or worse. A novel way of conceptualizing these developments is in terms of commodification. By “commodification” we mean the process of transforming a good or activity into a commodity available on the market. Private goods, assets or information are treated like a product that can be bought, sold or hired. Several philosophers have raised the question whether there are there some things that should not be commodified (Walsh 2013, Sandel 2012, Satz 2010). How extensive should markets, in which digital business function, be? Are there reasons to prevent the buying and selling of certain kinds of goods, services or information, or might we permissibly allow the commodification of everything that can be commodified? In order to ethically evaluate these developments and to create guidelines for responsible development and use of digital technologies and their information this paper aims at a novel ethical framework that surpasses the limitations of the currently available frameworks for information ethics. The paper addresses (i) ethical theory and social and business practices, and (ii) commodification theories and distinct life spheres. The paper starts with an overview of the current debates on the ethics of information in a structured manner and uses commodification theories as a way of critique and identification of gaps to see what a normative framework should look like which supports responsible use of organizational information.


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