Things that make me go hmm.
An article today on Digital Book World has got me thinking. Here's the centerpiece of it:
At Jellybooks, we recently developed a piece of code called candy.js, which is embedded inside an ebook to track how users actually read. Penguin Random House UK was among our earliest partners in a pilot program of the technology, and the insights we gathered were fascinating. The question now becomes what story this data tells us and what impact it might have.
Okay, that's a question, but it's not the question. The first question that pops into my head is, "Hey, who asked me for permission?"
Maybe they did ask, and maybe I gave it. I never read those big, long user agreement things. I accept whatever terms iTunes offers me because I can't listen to my music unless I accept. (Yes, I'm old-fashioned; I pay for things, I don't pirate them.) Maybe there was one of those "I agree" buttons to click whenever I bought my Kindle. I don't know; I'm faced with far too many of those buttons to remember which sites and gadgets had one.
Plenty of people will ask all the necessary questions about user privacy and all that good stuff. I'm going to ask the question of consent. Because the mere fact that I click "I agree" doesn't imply consent; it just implies that whoever wrote the terms and conditions has covered their ass.
There's a moral problem I pose to my ethics classes. A guy named Tom has the opportunity to peep into the ladies' changing room at Victoria's Secret. Let's say by hypothesis that he can do so without being caught, that he'll enjoy it if he peeps and he'll be frustrated if he doesn't. Now, should he peep?
If you're an ethical egoist, you believe "morally right" means "whatever is in my own best interest," and then you'll say he should peep. (It's in his best interest so long as he doesn't get caught, and in this case we'll guarantee he can't get caught.) If you're a utilitarian, you believe "morally right" means "whatever is in everyone's collective best interests," and then it looks like you still might be committed to saying Tom ought to peep. (So long as no one finds out it's hard to say anyone was harmed, so in this case the "everyone" of "everyone's collective best interests" is reduced to Tom alone.)
Most of my students will say they agree with utilitarianism until I give them this problem. Then they have second thoughts. Maybe you do too, and if not, I can make it worse. What if Tom has some weird X-Man mutant power that allows him to see breast cancer with 100% accuracy. His voyeurism is now potentially life-saving. (This makes him the skeeviest X-Man ever, I know.) If he enjoys peeping and he can find some way to anonymously deliver life-saving information to some of the women he peeps on, does that justify his voyeurism?