Conference Papers  |    |  October 15, 2018

Does ACM’s Code of Ethics Change Ethical Decision Making in Software Development?

Conference paper by Andrew McNamara, Justin Smith and Emerson Murphy-Hill.
Presented at the 2018 26th ACM Joint Meeting on European Software Engineering Conference and Symposium on the Foundations of Software Engineering.

Abstract:

Ethical decisions in software development can substantially impact end-users, organizations, and our environment, as is evidenced by recent ethics scandals in the news. Organizations, like the ACM, publish codes of ethics to guide software-related ethical decisions. In fact, the ACM has recently demonstrated renewed interest in its code of ethics and made updates for the first time since 1992. To better understand how the ACM code of ethics changes software-related decisions, we replicated a prior behavioral ethics study with 63 software engineering students and 105 professional software developers, measuring their responses to 11 ethical vignettes. We found that explicitly instructing participants to consider the ACM code of ethics in their decision making had no observed effect when compared with a control group. Our findings suggest a challenge to the research community: if not a code of ethics, what techniques can improve ethical decision making in software engineering?