Unit 1 Introduction to information ethics

Learning outcomes

By the end of this unit you should:

  • have completed your first in-class assessment quiz
  • know how the course is organized
  • be aware of the assessment schedule
  • understand the core 10 terms related to argumentation
  • have participated in ethical debates
  • be ready to participate in discussions on ethics, morals and laws in our next session

Activity 1: Starter quiz

Work alone. Analyze the following dilemma. Identify the issues involved. Decide your stance on the issues. Identify supporting reasons for your stance. Evaluate the strength of the evidence. Use precise terminology. Write a bullet-plan showing your argument, and then write the draft below. Most likely, you will not have time to finish your draft.

You find a USB drive containing classified government documents detailing covert surveillance activities on citizens. You believe the public has the right to know, but releasing this information might endanger national security and get you prosecuted. What do you do?


Activity 2: Introduction to each other

Work in pairs. Discuss your answers to the following questions.

  1. How many people do you know in this classroom?
  2. Why did you select this course?
  3. What do you know about ethics or information ethics?
  4. Do you consider yourself ethical in general?
  5. Have you experienced any ethical dilemmas?

Activity 3: Introduction to tutor

Work in pairs. Decide on some questions that you would like to ask your tutor. You will have the opportuntity to ask these questions and any follow-up questions.

your tutor

Activity 4: Introduction to assessments

Read this overview of the assessments in this course. Listen to the explanations and examples. Should you have any questions, raise them directly with your tutor.

Assessment Content Grade percentage
Quizzes Tests of knowledge and application 10 x 2% = 20%
Seminar discussions 3-minute individual presentation followed by 10-minute group discussion 2 x 10% = 20%
Annotated essay Essay with annotations showing argumentation 20%
Slideshow presentation Annotated slideshow with script. Question and answer. 20%
Examination Test of knowledge and application 20%

Activity 5: Course overview

This plan shows the envisaged schedule should everything go to plan. Assessments are staggered throughout the course.

Session Content Unit Assessment
1 Introduction Unit 1
2 Data privacy Unit 2
3 Intellectual property Unit 3
4 Algorithmic bias Unit 4
5 Digital divide Unit 5
6     Seminar discussion 10%
7 Surveillance and security Unit 6
8 Social media ethics Unit 7
9     Seminar discussion 10%
10 Health information ethics Unit 8
11 Future of information ethics Unit 9
12 Review Unit 10 Annotated essay 20%
13 Workshop / consultations  
14     Presentation 20%
Exam   Exam 20%

Activity 6: Argumentation

The following terms are often used when describing arguments.

Consider the exact meaning of these terms. Then, listen to a short lecture explaining them.

  1. proposition
  2. assumption
  3. assertion
  4. premise
  5. conclusion
  6. argument
  7. deductive reasoning
  8. inductive reasoning
  9. sound conclusion
  10. cogent conclusion

Activity 7: Preparatory debate

Debate the topic given below.

Truth is objective, verifiable and universal. Although given limitations in the extant knowledge and measurement instruments what is currently accepted as true may later turn out to not be true. Beliefs are subjective. They may or may not be the true and they may or may not justified, viz. supported by evidence and rational argument. Beliefs are strongly influenced by social environment, personal experiences, and emotional states; and in many cases beliefs. Beliefs can change over time based on new experiences, evidence, or reasoning, although some beliefs, such as core religious or philosophical tenets, may be deeply ingrained and resistant to change. In summary, truth is an objective quality that exists independently of individual or collective belief, whereas belief is a subjective mental state that may or may not align with truth. Understanding the difference between the two is crucial for clear thinking and effective decision-making.

Activity 8: Ethical debate

Work in pairs of threes. Discuss the answer to the following question. Back up your opinion with supporting reasons.

Arguments for Information Being Free

  1. Democratization of Knowledge
  2. Innovation and Collaboration
  3. Transparency and Accountability
  4. Cultural Exchange
  5. Reduced Inequality

Arguments Against Information Being Free

  1. Intellectual Property Rights
  2. Quality and Trustworthiness
  3. Data Privacy
  4. National Security
  5. Cost of Production

Compromise Perspectives

  1. Freemium Models
  2. Open Access with Attribution
  3. Tiered Access
  4. Time-Limited Exclusivity
  5. Selective Classification

Arguments for Information Being Free

  1. Democratization of Knowledge: Free information can level the playing field, providing equal opportunities for education and empowerment.
  2. Innovation and Collaboration: Open access to information can accelerate research and development by enabling more people to build upon existing knowledge.
  3. Transparency and Accountability: Free access to certain types of information, such as government data, promotes transparency and enables public oversight.
  4. Cultural Exchange: Free information facilitates the sharing and preservation of culture, contributing to a richer, more diverse global community.
  5. Reduced Inequality: Making information free can help reduce economic and social inequalities by providing everyone with access to the same resources.

Arguments Against Information Being Free

  1. Intellectual Property Rights: Content creators argue that they have a right to be compensated for their efforts and that the free distribution of their work undermines their ability to earn a livelihood.
  2. Quality and Trustworthiness: Free information is not always vetted or reliable, which can propagate misinformation.
  3. Data Privacy: Free flow of information could compromise personal privacy, as seen in issues related to data mining, surveillance, and unauthorized data sharing.
  4. National Security: Unlimited access to certain types of information could pose security risks, making it necessary to restrict access to sensitive data.
  5. Cost of Production: Information is often expensive to produce and maintain, and without financial incentives, there may be less investment in quality research and content creation.

Compromise Perspectives

  1. Freemium Models: Some advocate for a compromise, such as models where basic information is free, but premium content requires payment.
  2. Open Access with Attribution: Another compromise could involve free sharing of information as long as proper attribution is given, preserving intellectual property rights while promoting free dissemination.
  3. Tiered Access: Publicly-funded research could be made freely available, while proprietary research remains behind paywalls.
  4. Time-Limited Exclusivity: Information could be proprietary for a certain period before becoming public, giving creators a window to monetize their efforts.
  5. Selective Classification: Government and institutions could classify data based on sensitivity, making less sensitive information freely accessible while restricting more sensitive data.

Activity 9: Flipped learning

Watch this introductory video which compares and contrasts ethics, morals and laws.

All the information explained in the video is taken from Ethics in Information Technology, written by George W. Reynolds.

Be prepared to explain each of the terms listed below:

  1. ethics
  2. morals
  3. laws
  4. Bathsheba syndrome


Can you explain the differences between:

  1. propositions and premises
  2. assumptions and assertions
  3. arguments and conclusion
  4. deductive and inductive reasoning
  5. sound and cogent conclusions

If you can not, make sure that you can before your next class.

Running count: 10 of 61 concepts covered so far.