Morality, Privacy, and Interface Design

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Interface designs for human/human communications involve elements of surveillance and control of users. Security and protections for intellectual property are frequently given as the reasons for these design features. While institutional surveillance and controls seem appropriate for regulating the moral behavior of individuals in what cognitive moral theorist Lawrence Kohlberg calls the pre-conventional stage of moral reasoning, they are theoretically inappropriate for individuals operating at the higher conventional and principled stages. Learning and exercising higher forms of moral reasoning require the social conditions of what the theorist J├╝rgen Habermas calls communicative action, in which groups create communities with negotiated behavioral norms. Privacy is required in both computer supported cooperative work interfaces and in social interfaces in order for groups of individuals to operate in what the social theorist Erving Goffman called "backstage" areas. There, free from the immediate supervision of formal authorities, they can work out mutually agreed upon patterns of acceptible behavior. Without these shared private spaces, the theoretical conditions for communicative action and moral development are restricted by the interface design. Despite our enthusiasm to civilize the unruly world of online communications, social theory strongly suggests that we avoid the temptation to build technologies of surveillance and control as a solution to online behavior. Especially in educational and community environments, private spaces where social interactions among people regulate behavior are essential for moral development.


Keywords: Morality, Moral Development, Interface, Social Theory, Privacy
Stream: Technology in Education
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: , Morality, Privacy, and Interface Design


Prof. Judith Perrolle

Department of Sociology and Anthropology
College of Arts and Sciences, Northeastern University

Boston, MA, USA

Areas: Social Impact of Computers and Communications Technology,Sociology of Science, Knowledge, and Technology Selected Publications: Computers and Social Change: Information, Property and Power. Balmont, CA: Wadsworth, 1987. Web Edition, 1996, 1997, 1998. http://www.ccs.neu.edu/home/perrolle/book/ Survelliance and Privacy in Computer Supported Cooperative Work, in David Lyon and Ella Zureik, eds., New Technology, Surveillance and Social Control. University of Minnesota Press, 1995. http://www.ccs.neu.edu/home/perrolle/privacy.html (conference paper version) Anderson, R.E., Johnson, D.G., Gotterbam, D., Perrolle, J. 1993. Using the New ACM Code of Ethnics in Decision Making. Communications of the ACM 36(2):98-107 http://www.ccs.neu.edu/home/perrolle/ethics/ACMcode.html (the ACM Code); http://portal.acm.org/ft_gateway.cfm?id=151231&type=pdf&coll=Portal&dl=ACM&CFID=48828548&CFTOKEN=51457817 (the article requires portal membership) Reproduction Hazards Policy: A Model Protection Policy fo rthe Chemical Industry, in Dana M. Headapohl, ed., Women Workers, special issue of Occupational Medicine: State of the Art Reviews 8,4 (October-December, 1993): 755-786."Expert Replacement and Enhancement in Computerized Mental Labor," Science, Technology, and Human Values 16,2 (Spring, 1991):195-207. External Affiliations: Association for Computing Machinery Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility Electronic Frontier Foundation American Sociological Association

Ref: T08P0156