Some time ago I was bothered by the issue of ethics in programming.
I heard the question best raised during a “game unconference” I attended. There was a panel about monetary systems for games, and people talked about the issues faced when adding money to an online game.
At one point someone from the audience said about ingame monetary systems (such as in WoW) “it’s like gambling and drugs!”, to which one panelist jokingly replied “so we have a proven business model”, and another said “except it’s legal”.
This was all in good spirit, but it got me thinking:
What are the programming jobs I will not take?
To answer this question I gave the subject some more thought, and discussed it with my friends. To make the discussion more concrete, here is a short (partial) list of jobs of which at least one is probably problematical for you:
- Spam and spam related
- regular advertising
- Botnet based spam
- harvesting email addresses
- en masse
- commercial espionage
- targeted “cons”
- Costly addictive games
- Affiliate marketing
- Weapon R&D
- Lawful Interception
- guerilla marketing, specifically astroturfing
A critical issue that came up in discussions is the “victim”. “Victimless” jobs were perceived as ethically better than ones with a victim. Also some people considered gambling ok, because the player agreed to play. Some people considered spam victimless.
Another argument was practicality. Someone argued that while spam is marginally ethical, he still wouldn’t do it, as the returns on doing spam are not worth it. Similarly, many people said that while they don’t see working on pornography as ethically wrong, they would still not do it because of the stigma attached to it.
Still, all the people I talked to pointed out jobs they will not do.
When I tried to reason what jobs are not for me, I came up with the following hypothetical questions to ask:
- Would you use the product yourself?
- If appropriate, will you let your children use it?
- Would you let your spouse use it and pay for it?
- Would you partner with someone who has that work experience?
Using this guide, it’s easier to think about which jobs I’d rather avoid.
One last note: many times, morality is a luxury that not everyone has. In dire times, I believe many gray-area jobs would be considered less ambiguous. After all, everyone has to pay the mortgage.