Ethics in Ecommerce

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May 18, 2014 by Ozgur Ozden

When developing a Web site companies and organizations should be aware of ethics and social responsibilities and reflect these values to their sites. But before we proceed we need to take a look at the concepts of ethics and social responsibilities.
What is ethics? This question is asked in a research done in 1987 by a Sociologist Raymond Baumhart. Some of the answers he received were:
“Ethics has to do with what my feelings tell me is right or wrong.”, “Ethics has to do with my religious beliefs.”, “Being ethical is doing what the law requires.”, “Ethics consists of the standards of behavior our society accepts.”, “I don’t know what the word means.”
As we can see from the answers some people connected ethics to social values, some to their own moral values and some to feelings and it is very difficult to have a precise, well rounded definition for ethics. In his article Baumhart (1987) explains ethics as “well-founded standards of right and wrong that prescribe what humans ought to do, usually in terms of rights, obligations, benefits to society, fairness, or specific virtues.” But it must be socially accepted.

When we come to the social responsibilities, there is no common and accepted definition. It is usually accepted as companies or organizations integrating environmental, health or social values into their strategies, campaigns and products to produce valuable contribution for the benefit of the public.
Canadian Government website very nicely summaries these values as:
“corporate governance and ethics
health and safety
environmental stewardship
human rights
human resource management
community involvement, development and investment
corporate philanthropy and employee volunteering
customer satisfaction and adherence to principles of fair competition
anti-bribery and anti-corruption measures
accountability, transparency and performance reporting
supplier relations, for both domestic and international supply chains.”
When preparing a web site designers and developers must agree with company policies. Information provided on the website must not offend anyone from different religion, race, or ethnic background. All the information provided must be true, referenced and documented. Intellectual properties like copyright, patent and trademark must be respected and used accordingly. If website is a continuous source for the public, it must be updated regularly to provide correct information.
Website is a showcase, public presentation of a company and represents the values of the company. Well structured and ethically prepared site increase the image of the company to a trusted and well balanced in public eye. But of course information on the site must have equivalent actions in real life.
I also believe that social responsibilities as a game of Robin Hood. İf a company making profit from public, some portion of this profit must have return to them.

1- Betsy Reed (1998) The Business of Social Responsibility (Online) Avaiable at: [Accessed at: 18 May 2013]
2- Manuel Velasquez (2010) What is Ethics? Available at: [Accessed at: 18 May 2013]
3- Chris MacDonald, (1995) The Ethics of Web Site Engineering, CMC Magazine, (Online) Available at: [Accessed at: 18 May 2013]


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