With the rapid advances in communication technology over the past 30 years, the corporate world has been revolutionised by the ability to conduct electronic business ("e-business") through the Internet. Many of the changes that have occurred are positive. For example, digital technology allows the instantaneous storage and sharing of contracts, transaction information, market research and so on. Transactions may also be conducted online, allowing for commercial activity across thousands of miles. However, there are also several problems that come with e-business, including ethical issues.
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One of the foremost ethical concerns about conducting e-business is security. Although many companies are now aware of problems caused by hackers, maintaining online security continues to be an issue. Going along with technology breaches is the issue of fraud. According to a 2009 Forrester Research Survey, businesses lost 0.6 per cent of their sales to fraudulent transactions online. In response, these companies plan to spend an average of £14 million in combating and detecting fraud in online sites.
Anyone using the Internet runs potential privacy risks, and businesses are no exception. Companies are relying more and more on digital storage capacity, including online databases, to collect, organise and store data about contracts, transactions and customers and clients. A 2001 survey conducted by InformationWeek.com reports that 80 per cent of companies collect data about their customers. However, only 60 per cent have a clearly displayed policy on the privacy of that data. Digital storage and backup files leave sensitive information open to access by employees and third parties, which represents a huge grey area in e-business ethics.
Many companies that conduct business online or using digital technology deal with intellectual property issues, including electronic copyright infringements. Well-known examples include music and film piracy. According to a 2007 report by the Institute for Policy Innovation (IPI), small businesses and other music industry workers lose billions of dollars a year from illegal downloads. Pirated software is also a concern for companies, especially in foreign countries where enforcement of copyright laws may be less strict.
One difficulty faced by companies involved in e-business has to do with employee training. In many cases, the speed of advances in technology outpaces a company's ability to teach its employees how to deal with the ethical issues involved. InformationWeek.com reports that only 54 per cent of IT and business professionals surveyed had a personal code for evaluating the ethics of business decisions. Many make these decisions based on company policy, making it even more important for a business to develop clear guidelines regarding ethical issues in e-business.
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