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What are Internet Ethics?

By Michelle Baugh
Updated May 16, 2024
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Internet ethics generally focus on the appropriate use of online resources. A broad overview of ethics on the Internet was addressed by the Internet Architecture Board (IAB) in 1989, using recommendations from the Division Advisory Panel of the National Science Foundation Division of Network, Communications Research, and Infrastructure. The aim of the resulting document was to give general guidelines of web ethics instead of providing hard-and-fast rules about online usage. Known as Request for Comments (RFC) 1087, the document is still held up as the standard for ethics issues online.

The main area explored in the RFC 1087 Internet ethics document is how web resources should be used. The authors were primarily concerned with unauthorized access to, and misappropriation of, Internet resources. The document also contains statements against compromising the privacy of other Internet users. Overall, the aims are to keep the Internet as a way to promote the exchange of information without compromising the integrity of the medium or the privacy of its users.

The results of the RFC 1087 Internet ethics document have been far reaching. Fee-based and free email service providers have strict regulations about sending out spamming messages, which are looked at as a waste of web resources. In addition, most websites that require users to input personal details provide registrants with a clear-cut privacy policy that outlines what information the website protects and what information it shares with third parties. Websites found to be in violation of the online ethics policy are often publicly called to task.

Global networks make it nearly impossible to create consistent repercussions for violating established Internet ethics, so users are encouraged to take on the responsibility of monitoring the websites they visit for compliance. In some countries, users are able to report violations to an appropriate government agency, which then has the task of charging and prosecuting the perpetrators. As an example, in the United States, the federal government has set up several agencies, such as the Internet Fraud Complaint Center (IFCC), to handle Internet ethics violations. In certain cases, such as extensive online piracy, government organizations with extradition agreements will work together to shut down and prosecute perpetrators.

There are some critics of governmental interference in Internet ethics issues. These people believe monitoring ethics on the Internet should be largely left to individual responsibility and community policing. The fear that many of these critics have is that creating mechanisms to enforce online ethics would be prohibitively expensive and would restrict the flow of information between users.

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Discussion Comments
By anon947495 — On Apr 25, 2014

How can you talk about ethics without talking about the morality of it all? Morals come before ethics. Ethics is the practical application of morality. I just spent an hour touring the Internet. I don't even know where to begin on the vast immorality that can be gleaned from these sites. Originally, it was wholesome, but now I think it's become disgraceful.

It is a representation of what has happened to our government. Both are corrupt and both need to be replaced. You're talking about encryption for websites, but consider how 90 percent of viruses travel in streams of porn, both solicited and unsolicited. I lay the blame at Hollywood's door.

By anon302752 — On Nov 11, 2012

This info will be helpful in writing my paper on cyber ethics. Giving credit where credit is due.

By anon183936 — On Jun 06, 2011

Placing more restrictions on restrictions we already have -- are we practicing our first amendment rights? And second, who would regulate or oversee the internet administrators on their jobs? Our government? What a joke they have become and we call ourselves the good old USA?

What good is it now? Millions of people out of work. Millions of children here at home and around the world are starving? Does our government feed these kids? Are they willing to be out of work for as long as their constituents have been working on a measly handout that has turned into a big fiasco?

Regulations upon regulations upon regulations seems so ridiculous in a society that will never be what it once was --- a great nation!

By arod2b42 — On Dec 04, 2010


I think that such a system would be restrictive and could cause the internet to fall into the wrong hands. After all, the internet is global, and there would be no way of telling which country would have a right to websites. Not only that, but we may see different internet factions form if such a plan of rules and regulations were put into effect.

By GigaGold — On Dec 01, 2010

Although we in the West consider free speech to be important, where do we draw the line? Libel and reputation-damaging information can be illegal, but there are few ways to impose restriction on the internet. Someday soon it may be necessary for there to be more restrictions on public information published on the internet. Maybe each individual will have an account for accessing the internet with a password and access to https or encrypted websites which they can retain as long as they follow internet protocols. Such accounts could be deactivated by internet administrators when the regulations are broken.

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