Thursday, April 3, 2014

Wiki"leaking" the Truths About Government: A Business Ethics Analysis (2010)

Wiki"leaking" the Truths: A Business Ethics Analysis (2010)

Wikileaks is a not-for-profit website that operates in order to provide individuals with information that many believe these individuals should not have access to. It has been doing so since 2006, the year it was launched. Amazon, one of the world’s biggest online marketplaces, was apparently one of these doubters. In 2010, Amazon declared it would no longer support Wikileaks on its servers which it relied upon. Amazon Web Services is a large group of computing services that constitute a cloud computing platform. Basically, this means that Wikileaks relied on Amazon to provide connection to the website for a great deal of supporters. Furthermore, speculations came about of pressure and essentially applied by government representatives, convincing the protest for Amazon. Joe Lieberman, chairman of the Senate's committee on homeland security, followed these speculations by admitting to contacting Amazon. In addition, he informed the public that he is going to continue to spread the same pressure to all of Wikileaks servers. This pressure comes from the belief that Wikileaks is illegally seizing material. On the other hand, they defend themselves by claiming that individuals have the right to know the information they release, and by preventing this, the company’s first amendment is being taken from them. They made this perfectly clear in a tweet hours after the 2010 incident. As CNN reported, “WikiLeaks confirmed the move on its Twitter feed Wednesday afternoon.
‘WikiLeaks servers at Amazon ousted,’ read a post from shortly before 3 p.m. ET. ‘Free speech the land of the free--fine our $ are now spent to employ people in Europe’ (Gross 1). 
This is the tweet from Wikileaks twitter page, which confirmed the Amazon blockage of server use for Wikileaks. It demonstrates Wikileaks' interpretation of the action, a constitutional issue.


The question becomes who is right and who is wrong in this situation? Clearly, the main stakeholders in the situation include the organization of Wikileaks, Amazon, the Government, as well as the individual Wikileaks supporters. The situation uncovers many aspects and arguments dealing with legality, as well at business ethics.

Individualism and economic theory are a couple interesting topics when dealing with this case, particularly because Wikileaks is a not-for-profit organization. Individualism is constituted of a few assertions. First, all people deserve the right to seek their own interests, and are expected to do so. Next, this right is their right only, and nobody should is able to make choices for them. Finally, people need to respect each other’s choices. In this sense, one could argue that the Department of Homeland Security made choices for Amazon, rather than respecting their decisions. In addition, individuals could argue that by taking away Wikileaks, they are essentially taking away the individual’s right and interest to know what is happening in the respective country, location, etc. Milton Friedman, 20th century economist claimed that, “the only goal of business is to profit, so the only obligation that the business person has is to maximize profit for the owner or the stockholders” (Salazar 12). However, Amazon would argue against this theory in this case. They were apparently mindful of a sense of business ethics, concerning the fact that they may lose customers who currently support Wikileaks. Currently on their website, they have a statement including the following,
There have been reports that a government inquiry prompted us not to serve WikiLeaks any longer. That is inaccurate. There have also been reports that it was prompted by massive DDOS attacks. That too is inaccurate…Amazon Web Services (AWS) rents computer infrastructure on a self-service basis. AWS does not pre-screen its customers, but it does have terms of service that must be followed. WikiLeaks was not following them. There were several parts they were violating. For example, our terms of service state that ‘you represent and warrant that you own or otherwise control all of the rights to the content… that use of the content you supply does not violate this policy and will not cause injury to any person or entity.’ It’s clear that WikiLeaks doesn’t own or otherwise control all the rights to this classified content. Further, it is not credible that the extraordinary volume of 250,000 classified documents that WikiLeaks is publishing could have been carefully redacted in such a way as to ensure that they weren’t putting innocent people in jeopardy.
 They acted in the interest of Good Will, which will be talked about later, in a section on Kantianism.

Image of the three main stakeholders of the situation: Amazon, Wikileaks, and the governement, who is represented here by Joe Lieberman, who originally contacted Amazon about the potential server block.

During much of the mid-19th century, John Stuart Mill helped develop a basis of utilitarianism, which is a theory stating that only happiness and pleasure are things of essential value, and everyone should attempt to bring this happiness and pleasure out in all others. Even though Amazon could have lost the customers talked about in the individualism section, it briefly ignored the importance of profit and concentrated on happiness and pleasure from doing what they thought was right, which is known as egoism. Altruism is maximizing happiness in others, which was seen through Wikileaks opposition, who promoted the protest. Wikileaks could also argue they were bringing out happiness and pleasure in others, a process known as altruism. The organization was developed in order to provide individuals with information regarding governments, and all other important issues throughout the world that no news or other sources would provide.
Cartoon representing the Government's issue with Wikileaks. The faucet is representing the website, with the water (information) running out of the White House and onto the Internet, or in the bucket.


The issue becomes increasingly more complex when viewed in the sense of Kantianism. Immanuel Kant developed his theory on the basis of four basic principles. First, people need to act rationally, which includes consistent actions, following the same set of rules as everyone else. Second, everyone should allow and help people to make rational decisions. Next, always respect others, their decisions, needs, and differences. Finally, individuals should be motivated by Good Will, doing what is right because it is right. This is a great application of the Government’s intervention with Amazon. Many people are arguing that they did not respect the autonomy of Amazon. Salazar concludes an important aspect of Kantianism by writing, “Treating people as equal, autonomous agents with goals of their own and being honest and honoring the relationships that we have, will produce a community that in which we trust each other and are able to rely on and cooperate with each other more effectively” (Salazar 6). It follows the old cliché saying; treat others the way you want to be treated. The Formula of Humanity puts it in more complex by saying, "Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of another, always at the same time as an end and never simply as a means" (Salazar 4). The government would oppose anyone who tried to make their decisions for them, so there is no reason to make a decision for another organization. People could argue they are using people as a means, rather than an end.

Any characteristics that allow are often called virtues. In business, 4 virtues are commonly used to analyze an individual(s) that is part of a business. They are courage, honesty, temperance, and justice. Depending on the legal beliefs, an individual would argue either Amazon, the government, or Wikileaks went against one or more of these virtues. For example, part of justice includes fair practices. Clearly, the main problem is that the Government and its proponents believe that Wikileaks was using unfair practices. In reply, Wikileaks and its supporters could argue that temperance, which Soloman claimed included ‘reasonable expectations and desires’, was not practiced by the government because it is unreasonable for a company to expect to control its public opinion (i.e. what gets released to the public, what people think of them, etc.). Meanwhile, Amazon, as it is in most of these theories, is stuck somewhere in the middle. Desjardins describes, by writing, “An ethics virtue shifts the focus from questions about what a person should do, to a focus on what type of person one is (Desjardins 42). They could defend their actions, as well as the government’s, by claiming they were only showing their courage, which includes standing up for the right ideas and actions. Wikileaks obviously would argue that was not the case, and it was instead government coercion.

Each theory offers a different perspective as to who is right and wrong under given conditions. Interestingly, money is not as big of an issue as it typically is in business ethics cases. The issue is rather one of opinion and politics, based upon what information about government and related things common individuals should have access to. As of now, Wikileaks is still in operation, shadowed by the continuous argument.
References

Amazon Web Services. AWS Products and Solutions. Retrieved April 3, 2014 from http://aws.amazon.com/message/65348/

DesJardins, Joseph R. "Corporate Social Responsibility." An Introduction to Business Ethics. 5th ed. NY, New York: McGraw-Hill Companies, 2014. 49-78. Print.

Gross, Doug. (2010, December 2). "Wikileaks cut off from Amazon servers". CNN US. Retrieved April 3, 2014 from http://www.cnn.com/2010/US/12/01/wikileaks.amazon/

MacAskill, Ewen. (2010, December 1). Wikileaks website pulled by Amazon after US political             pressure. The Guardian. Retrieved April 3, 2014       from http://www.theguardian.com/media/2010/dec/01/wikileaks-website-cables-servers-amazon

Salazar, Heather. Business Ethics, Economics, and Individualism

Salazar, Heather. Kantian Business Ethics


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