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Full Title or Meme

Ethics are a real-world virtue that is measured in the Identity Management world by Trust that a digital interchange partner retains their Identity and Ethics over time.


Aristotle[1] and most other commentators recognize that ethics must be ultimate focused on the end goal of providing some Common Good. The utility function is defined[2] as providing the greatest good for the greatest number. In tribal society ethics only extends to the members in good standing of the tribe. Most people use a hybrid version which gives greatest weight to the good of the family and then ratchets down from there to the community, the local government, the national government and for people as a whole. Now with the Internet spanning all populations there is a confusion of where ethics should apply in the digital world. The unfortunate answer seems to be, nowhere. Until we get a redefinition of ethics that will apply to the digital world, it is not likely that our experience on the internet will improve above its current abysmal state.

Popper makes clear that

Still there is a level of support for the Common Good even above that of good ethics. It is called by many names in tribal societies people's behavior was moderated by honor and shame. It worked well enough, even though it is likely that some bullies survived by intimidation. Today we call actions directed to a higher purpose the moral choice. As is described on the page Common Good morally good decisions have been driven out of enterprises, both private and public. Now the best we have is the imposition of Conduct Risk on enterprises that do not live up to expectations.


To start with, not everyone agrees on the goals of a body of ethics. Is it material wealth, happiness, contentment or some less well defined goal altogether?

Our good friend Aristotle[1] tell us that it is "foolish to accept probable reasoning from a mathematician and to demand from a rhetorician scientific proofs" as to the nature of ethics. But that "each man judges well the things he knows, and of those he is a good judge." But on the internet what is it that any user can know about their correspondent?

It appears that the rise of the right to privacy coincides with the collapse of ethics. Perhaps this is just a coincidence, a result of the dis-inter-mediation effect of the internet, but the possibility of a causal relationship does deserve to be explored.

Civics classes were started to teach kids to be good citizens (do we need a governance page instead?)

  • Conduct Risk is the impact of bad ethics, but it is often sold to management as a reduction in risk rather than as a moral imperative.


We have seen that relative ethics can be twisted to meet the needs of the user. So what can be the basis for a good ethic?

Popper -- supernatural, cultural, religious??

hypocrisy reigns - religious leaders are not ethical - churches just a gathering places for the like-minded tribes of today - Inclusion would help, but trial tendencies are part of our genetics pool. See the wiki page on Tribal Identifier for a discussion of the pluses and minuses of the human tendency to form tribes of people working for a common goal.

suspension of disbelief works on the stage and on the internet equally

Can there be any ethics without social norms - civics classes - sublimation of the individual

Ethics for War

The Geneva Conventions are rules that apply only in times of armed conflict and seek to protect people who are not or are no longer taking part in hostilities; these include the sick and wounded of armed forces on the field, wounded, sick, and shipwrecked members of armed forces at sea, prisoners of war, and civilians.

Ethics for Business

If their can be Ethics for war, surely there can be Ethics for business.[3] Some of THE MOST pernicious ethical failures have been perpetrated by financial institutions, which supposedly are constrained to act as fiduciaries for their customers. But Wells Fargo has be caught time and time again acting against their customers' interests and pay day lenders whole business model seems to perpetuate a dependency on funds loaned at usurious rates. In the Identity Management space Facebook has had 21 major data breaches in 2018 and counting[4] while continuing to be trusted as a source of authentication for users on other sites.

The Conduct Risk page on this wiki discusses the existential threat that these ethical lapses can have on a business. Since most business are punished only for failing to provide a good return on investment, it is only such existential risks that can be expected to control a business ethic. That surely needs to change.

Contract for the Web

The following story ran after Tim Berners-Lee made the Case for the Web[5] at the Lisbon Web Summit. While the entire report seems to be about the Ethics of access to the web, that term is never used. Without some basis in Ethics its not clear why any one would be concerned about the Case for the Web. The irony of the many Facebook breaches noted above with their endorsement on this contract cannot be overlooked.

Facebook and Google have signed up to new internet standards designed by world wide web founder Tim Berners-Lee, who said just last week that the companies may have to be broken up to reduce their dominance. The "contract for the web" will require internet companies to respect data privacy and "support the best in humanity", after a year in which they have faced unprecedented criticism for data privacy scandals and the spread of fake news, hate speech and online abuse, writes the Financial Times. "Those of us who are online are seeing our rights and freedoms threatened," Sir Tim said at the Web Summit tech conference in Lisbon on Monday evening. "We need a new contract for the web, with clear and tough responsibilities for those who have the power to make it better." Nearly 60 companies, governments and business leaders have signed up to the contract, including Facebook, Google, the French government and billionaire Richard Branson. Amazon, one of the "huge companies" named in a report published alongside the contract, has not signed up. The contract sets out high-level principles for a "free and open web", such as improving internet access and promoting privacy. But according to a spokesperson, the standards will be more detailed after consultations with governments and companies, and could include a commitment to net neutrality, which the British computer scientist has fiercely advocated for after a rollback in the US. [6]

Unfortunately, the "Contract for the Web, ... will set out the roles and responsibilities of governments, companies and citizens. The challenges facing the web today are daunting and affect us in all our lives, not just when we are online. But if we work together and each of us takes responsibility for our actions, we can protect a web that truly is for everyone." But there is no requirement that true identities be associated with action on the web. It appears that there is no history of any entity taking responsibility without knowing the identity of that entity. Just so with ethics: people will not behave ethically if they think that they will not be identified as the actor. Without Trusted Identifier in Cyberspace there will be no assumption of responsibility.

Ethical Web Principles

There is a W3C TAG on Etical Web Principles. It does claim tat the web should provide a net positive social benefit. There is no evidence that is true in 2020. It has endorsed a series of principles including these:

  1. First do not harm to society, especially not to vulnerable people.
  2. Community without misinformation, harassment and persecution.
  3. Freedom of expression meaning mostly lack of state censorship or surveillance, which seems in conflict with community.
  4. Security and privacy, which seems somewhat the opposite of community.
  5. Verifiable information, which is in conflict with freedom of expression.
  6. Inclusion, including where bandwidth and machine access is low.
  7. Sustainable, which seems the opposite of much of the reset of the needs.
  8. Personal agency is listed as a goal, but not as a principle.
  9. And a bunch of stuff that only geeks would even understand

Interestingly neither trust, resilience, consent, intent nor reliability is even mentioned.

Ethics for Robots

  • The definition of robots here includes all Artificial Intelligence whether it has mechanical actuators or not.
  • Issac Asimov family predicted the need for this field in his three laws of robotics. (1) protect humans, (2) do what they say, (3) protect yourself.; augmented later with (0) protect humanity.
  • This is partially taken from MIT News 2021-03/04 which is not publicly distributed. Authors Laura Major and Julie Shah from their book.[7]
  • Will we one day need a central agency like the FAA to create rules, develop external navigation support, and regulate other aspects of robot operation and control?


  1. 1.0 1.1 Aristotle Nichomachean Ethics
  2. Wikipedia Utilitarianism
  3. Nathaniel B. Davis, If War Can Have Ethics, Wall Street Can, Too. in Modern Ethics in 77 Arguments. LiveRight Publishing ISBN 978-1-63149-298-3 p. 211-215
  4. Issie lapowsky, The 21 (and counting) Biggest Facebook Scandals of 2018. Wired
  5. Michael Cañares, +5, The Case #ForTheWeb. (2018-11) Washington DC: Web Foundation
  6. FACEBOOK AND GOOGLE SIGN UP TO TIM BERNERS-LEE'S 'CONTRACT' (2018-11-06) Raidió Teilifís Éireann, Ireland's National Public Service Broadcaster.
  7. Laura Major and Julie Shah, What to expect wen you're expecting Robots Basic Books (2020-10-13) ISBN 978-1541699113