Computer ethics is a part of practical philosophy concerned with how computing professionals should make decisions regarding professional and social conduct. Margaret Anne Pierce, a professor in the Department of Mathematics and Computers at Georgia Southern University has categorized the ethical decisions related to computer technology and usage into three primary influences:
To understand the foundation of computer ethics, it is important to look into the different schools of ethical theory. Each school of ethics influences a situation in a certain direction and pushes the final outcome of ethical theory. Relativism is the belief that there are no universal moral norms of right and wrong. In the school of relativistic ethical belief, ethicists divide it into three connected but different structures, subject (Moral) and culture (Anthropological). Moral relativism is the idea that each person decides what is right and wrong for them. Anthropological relativism is the concept of right and wrong is decided by a society's actual moral belief structure. Deontology is the belief that people's actions are to be guided by moral laws, and that these moral laws are universal. The origins of Deontological Ethics are generally attributed to the German philosopher Immanuel Kant and his ideas concerning the Categorical Imperative. Kant believed that in order for any ethical school of thought to apply to all rational beings, they must have a foundation in reason. Kant split this school into two categorical imperatives. The first categorical imperative states to act only from moral rules that you can at the same time will to be universal moral laws. The second categorical imperative states to act so that you always treat both yourself and other people as ends in themselves, and never only as a means to an end. Utilitarianism is the belief that if an action is good it benefits someone and an action is bad if it harms someone. This ethical belief can be broken down into two different schools, Act Utilitarianism and Rule Utilitarianism. Act Utilitarianism is the belief that an action is good if its overall effect is to produce more happiness than unhappiness. Rule Utilitarianism is the belief that we should adopt a moral rule and if followed by everybody, would lead to a greater level of overall happiness. Social contract is the concept that for a society to arise and maintain order, a morality based set of rules must be agreed upon. Social contract theory has influenced modern government and is heavily involved with societal law. Philosophers like John Rawls, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau helped created the foundation of social contract. Virtue Ethics is the belief that ethics should be more concerned with the character of the moral agent (virtue), rather than focusing on a set of rules dictating right and wrong actions, as in the cases of deontology and utilitarianism, or a focus on social context, such as is seen with Social Contract ethics. Although concern for virtue appears in several philosophical traditions, in the West the roots of the tradition lie in the work of Plato and Aristotle, and even today the tradition's key concepts derive from ancient Greek philosophy. The conceptual foundations of computer ethics are investigated by information ethics, a branch of philosophical ethics established by Luciano Floridi. The term computer ethics was first coined by Walter Maner, Since the 1990s the field has started being integrated into professional development programs in academic settings.
The concept of computer ethics originated in the 1940s with MIT professor Norbert Wiener. While working on anti-aircraft artillery during World War II, Wiener and his fellow engineers developed a system of communication between the part of a cannon that tracked a warplane, the part that performed calculations to estimate a trajectory, and the part responsible for firing. Wiener termed the science of such information feedback systems "cybernetics," and he discussed this new field with its related ethical concerns in his 1948 book, Cybernetics. In 1950, Wiener's second book, The Human Use of Human Beings, delved deeper into the ethical issues surrounding information technology and laid out the basic foundations of computer ethics.
In 1966, Joseph Weizenbaum, also a professor at MIT, published a simple program called ELIZA which performed natural language processing. In essence, the program functioned like a psychotherapist where the program only used open ended questions to encourage patients to respond. The program would apply pattern matching pattern rules to human statements to figure out its reply.
A bit later during the same year the world's first computer crime was committed. A programmer was able to use a bit of computer code to stop his banking account from being flagged as overdrawn. However, there were no laws in place at that time to stop him, and as a result he was not charged.[unreliable source?] To make sure another person did not follow suit, an ethics code for computers was needed.
In 1973, the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) adopted its first code of ethics.SRI International's Donn Parker, an author on computer crimes, led the committee that developed the code.
In 1976, medical teacher and researcher, Walter Maner noticed that ethical decisions are much harder to make when computers are added. He noticed a need for a different branch of ethics for when it came to dealing with computers. The term "computer ethics" was thus invented.
In the year 1976 Joseph Weizenbaum made his second significant addition to the field of computer ethics. He published a book titled Computer Power and Human Reason, which talked about how artificial intelligence is good for the world; however it should never be allowed to make the most important decisions as it does not have human qualities such as wisdom. By far the most important point he makes in the book is the distinction between choosing and deciding. He argued that deciding is a computational activity while making choices is not and thus the ability to make choices is what makes us humans.
At a later time during the same year Abbe Mowshowitz, a professor of Computer Science at the City College of New York, published an article titled "On approaches to the study of social issues in computing." This article identified and analyzed technical and non-technical biases in research on social issues present in computing.
During the same year Terrell Ward Bynum, the professor of Philosophy at Southern Connecticut State University as well as Director of the Research Center on Computing and Society there, developed the first ever curriculum for a university course on computer ethics. Bynum was also editor of the journal Metaphilosophy. In 1983 the journal held an essay contest on the topic of computer ethics and published the winning essays in its best-selling 1985 special issue, "Computers and Ethics."
In 1984, the United States Congress passed the Small Business Computer Security and Education Act, which created a Small Business Administration advisory council to focus on computer security related to small businesses.
In 1985, James Moor,  published an essay called "What is Computer Ethics?" In this essay Moor states the computer ethics includes the following: "(1) identification of computer-generated policy vacuums, (2) clarification of conceptual muddles, (3) formulation of policies for the use of computer technology, and (4) ethical justification of such policies."
During the same year, Deborah Johnson, ] got the first major computer ethics textbook published. Johnson's textbook identified major issues for research in computer ethics for more than 10 years after publication of the first edition.[
In 1988, Robert Hauptman, a librarian at St. Cloud University, came up with "information ethics," a term that was used to describe the storage, production, access and dissemination of information.[unreliable source?] Near the same time, the Computer Matching and Privacy Act was adopted and this act restricted United States government programs identifying debtors.
In the year 1992, ACM adopted a new set of ethical rules called "ACM code of Ethics and Professional Conduct" which consisted of 24 statements of personal responsibility.
Three years later, in 1995, Krystyna Górniak-Kocikowska, ] came up with the idea that computer ethics will eventually become a global ethical system and soon after, computer ethics would replace ethics altogether as it would become the standard ethics of the information age.[
In 1999, Deborah Johnson revealed her view, which was quite contrary to Górniak-Kocikowska's belief, and stated that computer ethics will not evolve but rather be our old ethics with a slight twist.[unreliable source?]
Privacy is one of the major issues that has emerged since the internet has become part of many aspects of daily life. Internet users hand over personal information in order to sign up or register for services without realizing that they are potentially setting themselves up for invasions of privacy.[better source needed]
Another example of privacy issues, with concern to Google, is tracking searches. There is a feature within searching that allows Google to keep track of searches so that advertisements will match your search criteria, which in turn means using people as products.
Identifying ethical issues as they arise, as well as defining how to deal with them, has traditionally been problematic. In solving problems relating to ethical issues, Michael Davis proposed a unique problem-solving method. In Davis's model, the ethical problem is stated, facts are checked, and a list of options is generated by considering relevant factors relating to the problem. The actual action taken is influenced by specific ethical standards.
Various national and international professional societies and organizations have produced code of ethics documents to give basic behavioral guidelines to computing professionals and users. They include: