Social, Ethical and Policy Implications of Information Technology

Charles Oppenheim (Loughborough University, Loughborough, UK)

Journal of Documentation

ISSN: 0022-0418

Article publication date: 1 June 2004




Oppenheim, C. (2004), "Social, Ethical and Policy Implications of Information Technology", Journal of Documentation, Vol. 60 No. 3, pp. 323-323.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

The title of this paperback book is ambitious, and it enters a marketplace that is full of books with similar titles. The book comprises 16 contributed chapters in four broad sections (Social Implications; Ethical Implications; Policy Implications; and Further Implications). All but two of the authors are from the USA, with the remainder from Australia.

Unfortunately, the book is a deep disappointment. With just a few notable exceptions, the chapters are parochial or superficial or contain mistakes – in some cases, such as that on copyright, all three descriptions apply to a single chapter. Parochial here means just considering the US situation and paying no attention to developments or views outside the USA. In such a broad topic area, considering the impact of ICT on people, ethical issues for information professionals, ethics of financial reporting, employee empowerment and digital divides, privacy and so on, it makes no sense to focus on just one (very important as it may be) country.

The best chapters were those on the digital divides, managing workplace privacy, coping with organisational transparency, issues to do with outsourcing, and ethical challenges for information systems professionals; these combined thoughtful analysis with a wide view of the issues. The worst chapters included a bizarre chapter analysing the Bungle case that occurred a while ago in a MOO (and for those readers who have no idea what this was, such as myself, the account and analysis was tedious, uninteresting and unenlightening). Some of the chapters were out of date; the one on data protection (mis‐named “data management”) covered US, UK, New Zealand and Hong Kong law only, and failed to link the EU Directive with UK law. One chapter was about accounting practices in dot‐coms and hardly considered ethical or social issues at all. There were also purely legal chapters that took little account of the broader social and ethical issues that form the context to that law.

The book does not help its cause by noting the existence of exceptions to copyright (such as “fair use” in the USA) and then proclaiming at the bottom of every single page that the page is copyright and copying or distributing in print or electronic forms without written permission of Idea Group Inc. is prohibited – a statement that has absolutely no validity in law, but is particularly ironic in view of the content of the book. It is also not helped by an index which could form the perfect teaching aid for those showing students how not to index a book. There are also a number of typos (for example, providing the wrong acronym for the Digital Millennium Copyright Act not once, but repeatedly), and some factual errors, such as getting the name of Ortega y Gasset totally wrong; the statement that only companies are subject to the UK Data Protection Act; getting the job title of the Information Commissioner wrong; and the statement that publishers enjoy near absolute immunity for inaccurate information.

To sum up the book does not achieve the objective implicit in its title. Additionally, it is so restricted in its geographic coverage, and the quality of the contributions is so variable, that it cannot be recommended.

Related articles