From the Editor

There were 5 exabytes of information created between the dawn of civilization through 2003, but that much information is now created every 2 days.”
– Eric Schmidt

This famous quote from Eric Schmidt, long-time Google CEO, paints a clear picture of the massive amount of data that our society generates. Much of this data is thrust into algorithms, models, and black-box processes that are designed to inform business decisions. The proliferation of smartphones, ever-present in our hands or in our pockets, has provided companies with tons of our information. With the exponentially-increasing number of ways our data can be used – and exploited – it becomes vital that we consider the ethical implications of some of the practices at work in our data-driven society.

We begin this issue of Viterbi Conversations in Ethics with a paper that takes a look at how our smartphones use location-based services (LBS). This paper touches on the user benefits, the privacy concerns, and the techniques that can be used to protect our location data. Our next paper also examines the topic of data protection, as it analyzes Apple’s decision to refuse to provide law enforcement agencies with a backdoor into their system following the tragic San Bernardino shooting in 2015.

The next paper dives into a thought-provoking discussion of the ethics of planned obsolescence, a strategy often employed by hardware manufacturers to ensure that their users are compelled to buy the newest version of their products.

This is not to discount the immense benefits that big data has brought to the table. To help provide a holistic view on this topic, the penultimate paper urges readers to consider how these data-driven decisions have improved our quality of life and made everyday user experiences a little bit easier.

We conclude the issue with a paper that provides some startling information on the ethical problems with medical ghostwriting. Equally as important as considering the ethics of our information being used is evaluating the validity of the data we use to make decisions, and decisions related to our health should certainly be prioritized.

We hope these papers give you a framework for forming your own thoughts on these topics. As the goal of our magazine is to inspire thoughtful discussions of engineering ethics, we also hope that you’ll take some time to share these thoughts with us.

Thank you for reading this issue of Viterbi Conversations in Ethics.

Rachel Longjohn, VCE Editor-in-Chief

  • The Future of Location-Based Services and the Implications of User Privacy
    Location-based services (LBS) have seen a rise in popularity in recent years. These services employ the use of real time GPS data to help facilitate many of our everyday tasks such as identifying nearby points of interest, locating restaurants, and providing other travel-related information. Moreover, LBS are used in more serious situations like those of fraud prevention and emergency locating. However, as this technology continues to progress, concern has been raised over its ethical implications. In particular, many are worried about its threats to user privacy. This paper works to identify these potential threats and outlines ways in which security can be improved without compromising our privacy.
  • On the Use of Encrypted Data by Law Enforcement
    Recent events have sparked a national debate about the government’s access to encrypted personal data from smartphones and the role technology companies have in solving crimes. This paper will discuss the ethical implications associated with a particular case from San Bernardino, California, and the reactions of the FBI and Apple Inc. An in-depth analysis of this case will provide the basis for arriving at a moral conclusion.
  • Ethics of Planned Obsolescence
    Planned obsolescence is an often-used tactic in the electronics industry to push sales. Companies design their products to either malfunction prematurely or become difficult to maintain and use. Engineers in this industry should avoid implementing such tactics as it harms the environment and exploits the public, which directly violates the engineering code of ethics. The violation of the engineering code of ethics through the use of planned obsolescence leads to frustrated consumers, tarnished reputations, and environmental damage. Every year there comes a time when the new line of smartphones is released. Advertisements line the streets and play repeatedly on the…
  • Exorcising Research Ghosts: The Ethical Issues Associated with Medical Ghostwriting
    Introduction In the last century, average life expectancy in the United States increased by over three decades [1]. This was in large part due to expanded initiatives in health research, which are critical in providing a better understanding of diseases and developing new therapies and treatments. However, this expansion of research and increase in available information means that no single researcher today can validate all possible innovations on his or her own [2]. Nevertheless, health professionals need to understand what treatments are available, as well as their advantages and disadvantages, to make informed decisions when treating patients or creating new…
  • Big Benefits of Big Data: Data Privacy Takes a Backseat
    “Between the dawn of civilization and 2003, we only created five exabytes (1 exabyte=1,000,000,000 gigabytes) of data; now we’re creating that amount every two days. By 2020, that figure is predicted to sit at 53,000 exabytes” [13]. This statement by Eric Schmidt, Chief Executive Officer at Google, proves how ubiquitous large amounts of data have become in today’s technology-driven world. With the generation of such massive quantities of data, corporations have developed new ways to buy, sell, and use it to their advantage. However, along with these developments come public concerns about potential violations of consumer privacy. Although it is…