Ethics and Database

by Kaly T
Every day billions of users’ access search engines such as Google or Bing.  The amazing thing about these search engines are that they essentially comb through millions of databases in a matter of milliseconds to give you the results you are looking for.  A database is a place where an organization can store a large amount of information and records.  The application can be found in a wide variety of subjects, some good some bad.  This is where this article takes its direction.  Databases can contain very sensitive information and require a great deal of ethical and moral values to ensure its proper use.  Ethics and morals boils down to what is right and what is wrong, in this case, ways to use databases.

In the business world, companies use databases to track and record the history of the company.  These can vary from things such as payroll, expenditures, et cetera.  This is good for the purposes of keeping a company strong via proper management of what goes on in a company.  However, this is not always the case.  In some cases, companies use these databases to gather information to market their customers better.  In a story published in the LA Times, a man was sent a letter from OfficeMax addressing him as “Mike Seay, Daughter Killed in Car Crash.”  This turned out to be true.  The man’s daughter had indeed been killed in a car accident not too long prior.  A mailing list, which is a form of a database, was rented out by some third party company to OfficeMax.  There are some ethical issues that come from using databases in this way.  How would knowing his daughter died be useful in marketing to this man?  This would be a breach of this man’s right to his own privacy.  Ethics is thrown out the door with the lack of respect for a grieving father for the ultimate gain of profit.

With social media taking an ever growing turn, interacting with each other online has become simpler than ever.  Profiles are created and stored on the provider’s database.  Users can explore profiles to meet up with friends and acquaintances, outside of face-to-face interaction.  This is powerful in sharing our world with each other.  For example, LinkedIn is a database of potential colleagues, employees and employers.  Their database helps the world connect and even create job opportunities for those looking.  On the other hand, having such large databases readily at hand does not necessarily mean they are utilized properly.  Google got into some hot water over the years due to the fact that they have such large amount of information at their hands.  For instance, there was some criticism over the Google’s email service, Gmail.  Computers would scan emails send to/from the servers to look for ways to market specific ads related to the emails.  This brought on large amount of angry users who believed that their private emails and inboxes were for them alone.  Their emails are stored in databases that are owned by Google.  Infringing on user’s private information to prove what is advertised to them is a touchy topic.  There are some who believe that this is unethical in that it is invading on their own personal boundaries while others may welcome the related ads.  However, in the end, this is an example of how databases in the world of all things social can used ethically and unethically.

Even at Cal Poly Pomona, they database for in ways you wouldn’t imagine.  The air conditioning system that Cal Poly runs on is provided by a mixture of cold and hot water that runs around the campus and that is mixed with the air to provide the temperature we all enjoy.  The cold water runs from a facility right behind the parking lots above the top of the hill using a 2.5m gallon tank of chilled water.  However, what many people didn’t know is that there are people who monitor the temperature of all the buildings on the campus.  They actually record and store this information on regular basis.  Some of the data recorded is every minute.  The reason is because the engineers designing this air conditioning system use the database in order to optimize and create the most efficient air conditioning system to fit our school’s need.  And then, we have the students.  With the spread of technology, students have so many ways to access the internet and its databases.  The rate at which technology is growing makes making rulings on what is ethical and unethical difficult. This is because there isn’t enough time to define what should be considered ethical and unethical.  This is referring to the abundance of information in the palm of all these students’ hands.  All of this blurs the lines of what is ethical because some students begin to believe that all answers can be simply found on the internet and that would be the end of their problem.  With no regard to who may have put that information on the internet, they use it for their own purposes such as tests and papers.  Students don’t even realize that they are stealing from others that contribute to those sources that they are borrowing.

It is safe to say as technology advances and the rate at which information is produced increases, the need for databases will forever increase.  Technology can become obsolete.  Humans may forget.  Things may become irrelevant.  But, everything in this world ultimately relies on some form of a database to function or exist.  This is why, as examples for the future generations, we must understand the power that can be contain in a database and use it with good judgment and reason.  Ethics is what keeps the world from crumbling.  Information is powerful and there must be precautions taken to ensure that this information isn’t misused nor taken into the wrong hands.


Molnar, Kathleen K., Marilyn G. Kletke, and Jongsawas Chongwatpol. “Ethics vs. IT Ethics: Do Undergraduate Students Perceive a Difference?” Journal of Business Ethics (2008): n. pag. Web. 29 Feb. 2014.

Patel, Nilay. “Yes, Gmail Users Have an Expectation of Privacy.” The Verge. N.p., 14 Aug. 2013. Web. 01 Mar. 2014

Pearce, Matt. “Dad Gets OfficeMax Mail Addressed ‘Daughter Killed in Car Crash'” Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 19 Jan. 2014. Web. 01 Mar. 2014.

16 thoughts on “Ethics and Database

  • March 5, 2014 at 10:54 am

    Yes, people have to keep in mind that the used of database must be relevant.

  • March 6, 2014 at 12:36 pm

    I think your post is extremely relevant to today’s widespread social media and the constant issues that arise in regards to privacy and hacking. After news of NSA’s database of personal information arose, people have become worried and active in the efforts of internet privacy. Like you said, everywhere we go there are databases recording every action we take. Databases of our cars, homes, computers and everything else we purchase, not to mention where we shop, eat, and find entertainment. All of these can understandable be used by companies to help marketing and advertisement but it also gives them the tools to invade our rights or use it unethically against us.

  • March 6, 2014 at 4:05 pm

    Very interesting! i dont know how you found the information about the cooling system in cal poly but im very appreciative that you used an example that most of us can relate to. The daughter being killed in a car crash example you also provided was a good topic to point out because information like that can be misconstrued and accidentally published without the users permission.

  • March 8, 2014 at 1:36 am

    This is a very relevant topic it todays social networking crowd. Social networks and many other companies(like explained) use and collect data on their customers. A particular example is mall companies use geo-fences in their mobile device applications as a way to market to target customers directly depending on where they are in their complex. So the posed question pertaining to if this is ethical even if the users “agree” to it in the terms and conditions of the application is a very interesting topic to explore and could set the stage for a good research project.

  • March 11, 2014 at 2:10 pm

    I fee like Ethic is one the biggest issues in how much information you can gather from the customers. I feel like its a violation of my privacy when i see Google ads that to do with stuff i searched up. Great article and also great presentation.

  • March 17, 2014 at 2:32 pm

    This is such a huge issue, especially with the amount of data that is out there on everyone who uses a smart device. It’s kind of scary how much information is out there and who has access to it. Great presentation. Really gave insight on different ways on how to use the information and the right and wrong uses of it.

  • March 17, 2014 at 4:40 pm

    Like always, it’s not the just the information that’s important; It’s how you use it. I like how in this article you brought forth the issue of ethics, because it’s a very important topic, and it affects us all in more ways than we probably can imagine. However, with ethics the issue always seems to be: Where do we draw the line? When will the costs of having all this data and information readily be available finally outweigh all the benefits, and when this happens, what can be done about it? While I agree that it seems wrong that marketing company was capable of knowing that man as the man whose daughter was killed in a car accident, and I’m not particularly comfortable with all the ways my information is monitored and stored when I search the web, I think it’s also important to consider what would happen if this information wasn’t stored. This is because, while it’s risky to store this information, there are also so many ways that most of it can be put to good use, and for the good of the people. So the issue, to me anyway, isn’t so much that companies shouldn’t be storing any information, but which information people should be allowed to monitor and store, who should be allowed to do this, and what should be done with this information. Then, if all these questions weren’t enough to ponder, we would still have to decide how to monitor and regulate it all, so that these distinctions are followed. The complexity of this all is also probably why the restrictions on the use of our data has yet to be to our satisfaction.

  • March 17, 2014 at 8:23 pm

    This issue is very controversial and interesting to decipher. Ethics is very relevant in all aspects of life and database field is no exception. Your idea of advertising specifically towards what people search via Google is highly debatable. Taking the business view, advertising based upon what people search would definitely increase sales. However viewing this issue as a consumer, I agree that it is an invasion of personal privacy. Personally, I just use different kinds of ad-blockers to not see any ads of any kind.

  • March 18, 2014 at 7:11 pm

    Prior to your presentation and article I didn’t know bad management of a database can lead to bad outcomes. Such as the case of the daughter killed in car crash. I had no idea a company would save this kind of information on people. Seeing how a company can track this on a person I can only imagine what horrible things many companies keep track of. Now I understand the correlation between ethics and data since sometimes the wrong data can disastrous.

  • March 18, 2014 at 9:29 pm

    This is a great article and definitely reflects a lot of relevant concerns as so much of our information is stored in databases. It’s insane what companies can save simply from innocent actions of clients. This is why cybersecurity and ethics is such an important topic right now, because companies need to be aware of the power that data possesses and need to be careful with how they handle gathered client information.

  • March 18, 2014 at 10:14 pm

    I found your article very interesting especially on the part on how the cooling system works in Cal poly. I can see how companies can use sensitive data to take advantage of people in delicate times. Sometimes companies can be insensitive to people and be out right unethical to do.

  • March 19, 2014 at 3:05 pm

    It was very relate to us. In Korea, there are forty million people’s data like credit card number, ID number, ETC were stolen. That makes big problem in Korea. security and ethics are very important to computer Information industry.

  • March 20, 2014 at 1:26 pm

    Interesting presentation about ethics and databases. I think that ethics should be an important part in databases since you are being trusted with sensitive information. People can and have used information that is thought to be safe only to be sold to companies for advertisement or crime.

  • March 20, 2014 at 7:19 pm

    I found your presentation on databases and ethics to be quite informative. Nowadays, it seems every company must have some competitive advantage over the other. Obtaining user information through what we query in these search engines is just another, and can be dangerous. Where do we draw the line between privacy and public information?

  • March 20, 2014 at 7:44 pm

    As I read more of these articles, it seems that ethical issues plague database systems. For databases to be useful, they must draw on information, but what information is private and what is not? Some information that may be private may also be extremely useful, so what sacrifices must be made in terms of privacy to have efficient databases?

  • March 20, 2014 at 9:42 pm

    The use of the database when use the right way is good, but when is misused and mishandled by a company or a person that have no ethics and breach the rights of privacy of individuals, then we need to have and implement new laws to deterred the misused of this companies and individual and put a stop to it. We need to have boundaries for what it is public and what it is private.

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