Legal & ethical issues in ebusiness

Written by roslyn frenz
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In this Information Age, technology evolves fast and data travels even faster. It can be difficult for the law to keep up with new technologies and inventive ways to conduct eBusiness. As a result, the law often lags behind, and lawmakers end up drafting laws to clean up Internet messes instead of preventing them. Take digital file-sharing (dubbed piracy) for example: laws weren't created to prevent digital piracy until millions of albums were stolen and the music industry was crippled. The lag in laws means that eBusiness executives must rely on ethics as the move forward in eCommerce.

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Privacy

Internet business have a legal obligation to protect the private information of its customers. eCommerce activity often involves collecting private information, such as names, phone numbers and e-mail address. Many eBusiness activities also involve transactions, so customer banking or credit card information also ends up stored online. Legally, it's up to the eBusiness to store and protect or dispose of this sensitive data. The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) is a set of laws that protects the online privacy rights of children. Under COPPA, parents have control of what personal information their children give to eBusinesses.

Advertising Online

Several online marketing issues spring from the inherent anonymity of the Internet; it's difficult to know the true identity of an eBusiness owner. A few online businesses take advantage of this in unethical or illegal ways. Some eBusinesses track the online activity of their customers so that they can advertise based on the customer's behaviour. "Behavioral Advertising" is not illegal, and it's also not illegal to refrain from disclosing that an eBusinesses tracks activity, although many people consider this nondisclosure unethical.

Copyrights

Due to the Internet's free flow of information, plagiarism and copyright infringement is a reoccurring problem. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is a set of laws that addresses plagiarism and copyright infringement in the specific context of the Internet and eBusiness. Under the DMCA, it's illegal to use online technology to copy and distribute legally copyrighted material, such as articles, music or videos.

Net Neutrality

"Net Neutrality" is the hotly debated idea that Internet users should have equal access to all websites. Currently, all websites are retrieved by computers at the same speed, no matter if the site is a multibillion dollar company or a neighbour's blog. However, Internet providers have the capability to deliver different websites at different speeds. This is an issue because websites could pay providers to deliver their content at faster speeds, smaller business with less capital might not be able to afford the faster processing, and the Internet would lose its "free for all" feel. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) currently supports net neutrality and bans providers from participating in any program that offers extra pay for higher speed access to any websites.

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