Programming Ethical Guidelines

The Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) is the world’s largest educational and scientific computing society. It has its own Code of Ethics and another set of ethical principles that were also approved by the IEEE as the standard for teaching and practicingsoftware engineering. These codes are Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct and the Software Engineering Code of Ethics and Professional Practice, respectively, and some of their guidelines are presented below:

From the Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct (ACM):[2]

* Contribute to society and human well-being. Programmers should work to develop computer systems that can reduce negative consequences to society, such as threats to safety and health, and that can make everyday activities and work easier. It is “an obligation to develop to high standards” (Savage).[3]

* Avoid harm to others. Computer systems have an indirect impact on third parties. They can cause loss of information and resources that might result severely harmful for users, the general public, or employers. Therefore, software developers should minimize the risk of harming others due to coding errors, or security issues, by following standards to design and test systems (Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct).[2]

* Be honest and trustworthy. This principle encourages programmers to be honest and aware of their limitations in knowledge and education when writing computer systems. Also, if a programmer knows there is something wrong with a computer system, he or she should report it immediately to avoid undesirable consequences.

* Give proper credit for intellectual property. It is mandatory for every software developer to never use and take credit for someone else’s work, even when it has not been protected by a copyright law, patent, etc. They must recognize and fully credit other people’s works, and they should use their own ideas to develop software.

* Respect the privacy of others. Computer systems are wrongly used by some people to violate the privacy of others. Software developers should write programs that can protect users’ private information and that can avoid other undesired people to have unauthorized access to it (Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct).

* Honor confidentiality. Unless required by law or any other ethical guideline, a programmer must keep secret any additional information related to his or her employer that arises from working in a project.

From Software Engineering Code of Ethics and Professional Practice[4] (IEEE, AMC):

* Approve software only if they have a well-founded belief it is safe and meets specifications. Programmers cannot assume that a system is ready to use only because it performs the tasks needed. They should make sure these systems are also safe and meet every specification required by the user. If programs are not safe, users are unprotected from hackers that could steal important information or money. Therefore, several tests should be performed in order to ensure a system’s security before approving it.

* Accept full responsibility for their own work. If a program presents errors, the software developer should accept full responsibility for his or her work, and should work on revising, correcting, modifying, and testing it.

* Not knowingly use software that is obtained or retained either illegally or unethically.If a computer system will be used as a base for the creation of another, then permission to do so should be asked by the programmer. This principle prohibits using any other software for any purpose if the way it was gotten is not clear or is known to be illegal or unethical.

* Identify, define, and address ethical, economic, cultural, legal and environmental issues related to work projects. If a programmer notices and identifies that working on a project will lead to any kind of problems, then the programmer should report it to his or her employer before continuing.

* Ensure that specifications for software on which they work satisfy the users’ requirements and they have the appropriate approvals. Software developers should come to their employers to ask for the correspondent approval to the system they are creating before continuing working on the next part. If it doesn’t meet the requirements, then a modification to the source code of the system should be made.

* Ensure adequate testing, debugging and review of software. Programmers should perform the appropriate tests to the pieces of software they work with, and should check for errors and system security holes to make sure that the programs are well implemented.

* Not engage in deceptive financial practices such as bribery, double billing, or other improper financial practices. Programmers are exposed to be participants on illegal activities to get money. They get involved in them due to threats, economical issues, or simply because they want to obtain easy money taking advantage of their knowledge about how computer systems work. This guideline prohibits programmer to form part of such unlawful actions.

* Improve their ability to create safe, reliable, and useful quality software. Sincetechnology advances faster year by year, and so does virtual criminality, the need of well-structured and designed programs is increasing. Computer systems get old and limited by new ones and new devices. Programmers should “further their knowledge of developments in the analysis, specification, design, development, maintenance, and testing software and related documents” (Software Engineering Code of Ethics and Professional Practice)[4] in order to create better pieces of software.


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