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Ethical Issues in Relevant Design

In: Computers and Technology

Submitted By callummacinnes
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Most professions have an ethical guideline that most will follow and adhere too, some have more responsibility than others, the medical industry for example has a very crucial ethical standing to go with the line of work, such as patient confidentiality (2009), but that isn’t to say that ethics in other lines of work aren’t as relevant as others.

The line for what is ethically right and wrong in the design/development industry can be a little blurred at times (2007), for example graffiti could be looked at by some as offensive, whereas others may see it as creative freedom. This can cause problems for designers who have to take an extra responsibility to make sure their work is ethically correct.

Back in 1995 when web browsers were fairly new there had not been much thought and consideration put in to ethics related to browsers (2011), this was partly due to there a relatively small amount of the population using the internet at the time, so not every issue had been discovered or addressed.

As browsers progressed ethical problems arose such as online security and what details a browser should and shouldn’t save, issues which needed addressing immediately, such as cookie law, advertisements and data tracking.

Chrome is a relatively new web browser, launched in 2008 by Google. Being a new browser means any ethical issues previously found in browsers, such as how information entered by a user can be stored and how it is allowed to be used, could instantly be implemented, giving them a valuable usability advantage when it was launched. Google are not open source like Firefox, meaning all developing is done in house, so they are fully responsible for tackling ethical subjects.

Google started out as a simple search engine (2013), but quickly became a powerhouse in the technological world. But to their advantage Google used their search engine past in their new browser, collecting data from search results from users to fine tune their experience (Fig 3). One example of this is when a user enters a search query, e.g. “Laptops”, the browser will remember this term and use it to generate advertisements on pages related to laptops. This is known as Google AdSense.

On its launch it initially caused backlash towards Chrome as people felt like their privacy was being invaded, but as explained by Google, no data is sent back to their servers and this feature is primarily to keep advertisements relevant to the user’s interests, and also to help the companies paying to advertise reach their potential market.

A cookie is a unique identifier used by browsers to store information such as passwords and other data in putted by a user (2012), they also relay information back to the server about the pages visited and what the user did on the website.

The ethical question here is, “Is it ethical to influence a person’s purchases based on information they have provided, sometimes unknowingly?”, of course that seems like a pretty loaded question on the face of it, but Google Chrome has done a good job of helping users feel secure. On May 26th 2011, a new law was implemented (ICO, 2011) to ensure that users knew exactly what a cookie was and that the website they are visiting is using them.

A site that uses cookies must now make it visible that they do so, this is more often than not done by having a box pop up that informs the user that data will be stored, from there they can accept this or refuse it, if they accept then cookies will be stored, if not then no information will be taken from the user.

If a website is using a privacy policy, they must be satisfied with the fact that not every user will read it as they may not be able to find it or they simply choose to not read it because it can be time consuming, in fact a recent survey from 2012 shows that only 16% of people read privacy policies and of those who do only 20% actually understand them (2012).

This can be found on websites in numerous ways, when a website uses a log in system they are required to prompt the user to agree to cookie law (2012) which reminds them of how their information is stored, if they accept a cookie is created securely containing their log in details. Another example, if you go to and like an article using the Facebook Like Button, then it is Facebook, not the BBC that stores the cookie on your computer (Brock Thompson, 2011) so cookie liability is now always dependant on the site you are on at the time.

Third party cookies are an intrusive form of data collecting (2012) that is usually sold between advertisers without the user knowing. The question was, “If a user doesn’t know it is happening, how can they stop it?” (2012) fortunately Firefox took a bold step in automatically blocking third party cookies (Mozilla, 2011), admittedly this wouldn’t stop all tracking cookies used by advertisers, but most. This hadn’t been done before in the browser development world, and was seen as a true move in ensuring ethical use of advertising, something unique to Firefox at the time (Figure 1). This was also seen by many as the “first shot at the advertising industry” (Figure 2), showing that Firefox simply cares more about users feeling safe than making money from potentially unsafe third party cookies.

Firefox has been around since 2003, making it one of the pioneers of modern browsers. The one main difference is that Firefox is open source, meaning developers from all over the world can develop fixes and come up with ideas for it. Because of this connection with the public, Firefox has its finger on the pulse of what users are wanting from a browser (2013), which over the years has pushed the envelope in creating what is seen as an ethically sound browser.

Most modern browsers in this day and age will come with some form of ad blocker pre-installed in the browser (2011), Chrome for instance will notify you via a pop up box that advertisements have been blocked, from here you can choose whether or not you want to carry on blocking those specific advertisements or let them through. Firefox has tackled this by introducing Adblock Plus, the most downloaded Firefox extension available (2009), with over 700,000 downloads per week. With this amount of downloads it’s easy to see that pop up advertisements are still an ethical issue, hence the demand for the product. The main problem with with pop up ads is that they can contain spyware which invades the user’s privacy and can install cookies to obtain passwords.

When it comes to web browsers, users primarily want to feel safe, for example their information and online habits are not being monitored (2012). This has been a challenge for all browsers, especially the pioneers such as Internet Explorer and Firefox.

Google Chrome has definitely attempted to apply to ethical standards with its handing of AdSense (2012), and you would imagine this to be the case from a company that has the motto of “Don't be evil” (2013), but at the same time it still seems that they are willing to only comply as much as they have to and not go out of their way to ensure security and privacy.

Where Google Chrome has spent millions to advertise their browser, Firefox has simply relied on offering a quality product that is ethically sound at the same time, which has resulted in it being the third most used browser worldwide (Wikimedia, 2013). Ultimately, if the user wants a browser which puts their safety first and still offers them a fantastic browsing experience then Firefox leads the way.


Figure 1

Figure 2

Figure 3


ABP. (2011). Adblock Plus and (a little) more. Available: Last accessed 14th December 2013.

Adam Dachis. (2012). Do you read privacy policies? (And do you understand them?). Available: Last accessed 16th December 2013.

All About Cookies. (2012). What is a cookie?. Available: Last accessed 12th December 2013.

All About Cookies. (2012). All about computer cookies. Available: Last accessed 14th December 2013.

Brock Thompson. (March 24th, 2011). Is Your Browser Ethical?. Available: Last accessed 16/12/13.

Cookie Collective. (2012). How intrusive are your cookies?. Available: Last accessed 14th December 2013.

Cookie Law. (2012). Cookie Law FAQ. Available: Last accessed 14th December 2013.

David Dairey. (2007). How ethical are your design practices?. Available: Last accessed 14th December 2013.

Farhad Manjoo. (2009). Blocked Ads, Clean Conscience. Available: Last accessed 8/12/13.

General Medical Council. (2009). Standards and ethics for doctors.Available: Last accessed 16th December 2013.

Google. (2013). Our history in depth. Available: Last accessed 14th December 2013.

Ian Bogost. (2013). What is "Evil" to Google?. Available: Last accessed 10th December 2013.

ICO. (2011). The EU cookie law (e-Privacy Directive). Available: Last accessed 16/12/13.

Mozilla. (2011). Disable third-party cookies in Firefox to stop some types of tracking by advertisers. Available: Last accessed 8/12/13.

Newfangled. (2011). History of Web Browsers. Available: Last accessed 10th December 2013.

Washington Outsider. (2012). Morals and Ethics of Google's AdSense.Available: Last accessed 10th December 2013.

Web Annoyances. (2013). Why is Firefox free?. Available: Last accessed 14th December 2013.

Wikimedia. (2013). Wikimedia Traffic Analysis Report - Browsers.Available: Last accessed 16/12/13.

Trace Anderson. (2012). UK Safer Internet. Available: Last accessed 10th December 2013.…...

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