Sunday, November 16, 2014

Amazon Accounts Hacked (11/16/2014)

Jeffrey Bezos, The founder of is very proud of the company he has built over the
past 20 years. His goal is to grow his business more and more every day and provide a great
variety of products at the lowest possible prices. Anyone can respect a business owner wanting to make profit, and Bezos does it very well. Recently, however, he has been getting a little carried away, and while it is unfair to blame all of the problems on Bezos, being the figurehead puts his name at the head of the issue.

Benjamin Mussler, a German software engineer, first noticed this descrepency in 2011. His company runs routine checks on many websites and applications like a sort of police force in the electronic world. Mussler Discovered that Kindle (Amazon’s eBook application) had a flaw in the software that allowed hackers to attach bugs to eBooks in the store. Once inside the account, this bug served as a router, sending all of your information back to the hacker.

Mussler directly notified Amazon of this and the problem was fixed in what he describes as “fairly short order”. Unfortunately, this was not the end of the problem. When kindle was updated in 2013, the problem was back. Again, Mussler notified Amazon. This time though, there was no response from the retail giant. For this reason, Mussler decided to go public with the information. The fact that Amazon reintroduced the problem and did nothing to fix it seems like they want the bug to be able to get in. There are plenty of reasons they could want it there but the most likely is that they are using the bug to gather purchasing information. The world we live in today places huge value on this kind of information. It is the most effective tool for marketing firms or anyone trying to reach a certain audience of people. Amazon likely takes this information and sells it to a company like Google. They can use this information to tailor what comes up when you search something specifically to you.

Looking at this case from an Individualist’s perspective the situation is rather cut and dry. is using this method to improve their company and make it more profitable. While they might be using some less than honest means, they are not actually breaking any laws. Because of the fact that users agreed to the terms and conditions when they made their kindle accounts, amazon is within their legal rights here. So an individualist would look at this as an acceptable business strategy.

A Utilitarian would also say this is an ethical business strategy. They would look at the side of first and see that disallowing this information to be gathered would not only hurt the profitability of amazon, but also other companies that are utilizing the information they are gathering. A utilitarian would also look at the consumer and see that the only real harm that this flaw is doing to them is them getting more relevant advertisements and such on pages that they search. Even if that is not a benefit to the consumer it certainly is not a disservice. So utilitarian ethics approves this case as well.
Virtue theory has a different viewpoint. They like the fact that has the courage to take risks and try to better their company. But then things start to get a little shaky. Temperance is a virtue that Amazon is living on the edge of  they have somewhat reasonable expectations for collecting and selling this information but aren’t doing a good job controlling themselves. Also, honesty and justice do not involve lying to consumers about what is being done with their information and who it is going to. Therefore, based on virtue theory, these are not great business ethics.

A Kantian is another person that would have a problem with this ethics case. He would raise up a huge red flag and say that cannot ethically sell this information because they are not fully informing the consumer of what they are doing with their accounts. In order to make this ethical a Kantian would need amazon to expressly state that they are selling the information to company A, B or C and why. That is the only way that Amazon could use the information while still respecting the consumer in a Kantian sense.

Because the viewpoints differ so wildly it is hard to make an over all judgment of whether or not it is ok for to use Kindle to sell information to other companies. Individualists, Utilitarians, Aristotelians, and Kantians all make relevant arguments. Take their viewpoints and come up with your own ethical theory.

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