Examining the Influence of Demographic Factors on Ethical Awareness: Computer Use and Security

AUTHOR
Maslin Masrom and Zuraini Ismail

ABSTRACT

Many colleges and higher educational institutions have become heavily dependent on computers and information systems for educational purposes. That exposes them to some ethical issues such as unauthorized access and use of computer systems, software piracy and information privacy. This study examines the influence of demographic factors on computer science students’ ethical awareness for computer-use and security. This study also outlines a framework to investigate demographic factors and ethical awareness. Based on an empirical survey of 144 students it was found that certain demographic factors, namely age and education level influence students’ ethical awareness for computer use and security. Other factors such as gender and hours of computer use per week were found to have no influence. The implications of these and other findings are discussed.

INTRODUCTION

Information and communication technology (ICT) are drastically changing our daily life. It is introducing changes that create ethical issues for the information society to debate and resolve, yet we are critically short of ethical and intellectual resources with which to comprehend and confront these changes. The pace of change often disrupts the operable norms and values. Thus, ethical issues are increasingly starting to be known as important aspects of information systems.

In recent years, along with the evolving nature of ICT applications, many studies have questioned whether today’s ICT user is responsible and ethical ICT user. Most of these studies have focused on smaller and larger business entities, IS professionals, educators and students. Computer security and ethics awareness associated with managing information systems is one of the popular topics of the current arena (North et al. 2006). As stated by the experts in the field of computer security, universities are among the least secure places in the universe (Foster, 2004; North et al., 2006). Among the causes of this problem is lack of student awareness of ethical of computer use and security.

Higher educational institutions must prepare students to deal with conflicting situations that they will face in their professional life. They should be cultured to adopt moral responsible and having ethical decision making.

In this paper we further investigate the effect of demographic factors on the ethical awareness for computer use and computer security. Our intention is to examine the influence of demographic factors on the ethical awareness of computer science students. In addressing this issue this paper is organized into seven sections. Following the introduction, the second section sketches out the conceptual background. Section three presents the research framework and hypotheses development. Section four discusses about the research methodology. Section five describes the data analysis. Section six presents the hypothesis testing and findings, and section seven draws the conclusion of study.

CONCEPTUAL BACKGROUND

Computer ethics is concerned with a set of rules or principles used for moral decision making regarding computer technology and computer use (Pierce & Henry, 1996). Nowadays ethical issues are growing faster in colleges and higher educational institutions and creating unethical problems. These unethical problems are confronting students, staff, and faculties in the educational institutions.

Tung and Siva (2003) examined the relationship between student characteristics and level of ethics. The characteristics studied included competitiveness, personality type, age, gender, and major. They found there is no relationship between gender and level of ethics.

Most recently, Halawi and Karkoulian (2006) examined the full-time undergraduate business information systems students and full-time master’s students’ attitudes toward ethical issues in information systems. They found there is a difference in perception to ethical situations between undergraduate and graduate students as well as between females and males in certain ethical situations. North et al. (2006) surveyed perceptions about awareness of ethical computer use and security held by Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) students. The results of the survey indicated that a 14% to 24% violation of the code of ethics is not desirable and a 20% to 52% lack of awareness of computer security is highly risky.

It may be more important to address the issue of computer use and security as an attitude rather than a technology. The technology may vary between companies and vendors, but the attitudinal parameters can remain constant. If individuals, through awareness and knowledge, develop an ethical, moral attitude toward computer use and security, the transitions into the future will be much smoother. Computer use and security depends on shared responsibility for the ethics and integrity of the university campus community (Oblinger, 2003).

RESEARCH FRAMEWORK AND HYPOTHESES DEVELOPMENT

Figure 1 below illustrates the research framework for the study.
ethicomp2008_masrom_fig1

The research hypotheses to be tested are as follows:

  1. H1: Female computer science students are more concerned about ethical awareness for computer use and security than male computer science students.
  2. H2: Older computer science students are more concerned about ethical awareness for computer use and security than younger computer science students
  3. H3: Computer science undergraduate students are more concerned about ethical awareness for computer use and security than graduate students.
  4. H4: Computer science students whose hours of computer use are high are more concerned about ethical awareness for computer use and security than computer science students whose hours of computer use are low.

METHODOLOGY

This study utilized North et al. (2006) survey instrument to operationalize the ethical awareness of computer use and security variables. Each item on the instrument described the ethical awareness for computer use and security variables that the subject could identify him or herself in agreement or disagreement. An interval scale of 1 to 6 was used with 1 representing strong disagreement and 6 representing strong agreement. The survey was confined to a higher education population.
Details will be discussed in the full paper.

DATA ANALYSIS

Data analysis will be presented in the full paper.

HYPOTHESIS TESTING AND FINDINGS

The results of the hypotheses are summarized in Table 4 below.

Table 4: Summary of Hypotheses

HYPOTHESES STATEMENTS RESULTS
H1 Female computer science students are more concerned about ethical awareness for computer use and security than male computer science students. Gender has no effect on EA (p=0.103). (H1 Rejected)
H2 Older computer science students are more concerned about ethical awareness for computer use and security than younger computer science students. Age has a negative influence on EA (p=0.002). (H2 Accepted)
H3 Computer science students with higher levels of educations are more concerned about ethical awareness for computer-use and security than computer science students with lower levels of education. Education level has effect on EA (p=0.001). (H3 Accepted)
H4 Computer science students with more hours of computer use per week are less concerned about ethical awareness for computer-use and security than computer science students with less hours of computer use per week. Hours of computer use per week has no effect on EA (p=0.879) (H4 Rejected)

CONCLUSION

The results of this study indicates that age and education level have a definite influence on the ethical awareness (EA) for computer-use and security. Older computer science students were found to be less concerned about ethical awareness for computer use and security. The findings contradict the assertions found in the reviewed literature which stated that the older people are more sensitive to ethical awareness (Roberts, Anderson & Yanish, 1997; Tung & Siva, 2003).The more educated students were found to be more concerned about ethical awareness.

Details will be made available in the full paper.

Comments are closed.