Internal Code: IAH78
Hullaballoo.com is a recent arrival in the highly competitive on-line news business. The business is (a) registered and (b) website hosted in a country that does not recognize international law governing such matters as privacy protection, censorship etc.
Jimmy Olsen is a recent graduate of Griffith University IT on the look-out for a job. He sees an ad for a web-developer and applies. Hullaballoo is looking for someone to work remotely on developing the newspaper’s website. Jimmy is successful in securing the job; the pay is above average for a 25 hour per week commitment working virtually. Everything seems good, at least on the surface.
Purveyors of Fake News. Before long, Jimmy realizes that Hullaballoo’s journalistic standards are low. Stories are published that at best lack the proper fact-checking. At worst, they are blatantly false. They peddle fake news with click-bait headlines ranging from, “the Pope endorses Donald Trump” all the way to “Hilary Clinton is running a child sex ring out of a pizza shop.”
Jimmy is uncomfortable with being part of putting misinformation into the world, but he needs the job, so he swallows his concerns and carries on with developing the website as a vehicle for fake news delivery.
The Sinister Parent. Jimmy decides to do some digging into Hullaballoo’s background. A talented cyber-sleuth, before long he discovers that his employer is owned by a multi-national Marketing company with clients ranging from political parties (particularly when running election campaigns) and advertising agencies in the business of selling consumer goods and services.
Now the context of the fake news stories comes into focus. Hullaballoo is paid to generate positive publicity for their client and negative publicity for the client’s competitor.
Jimmy notices that some of the news stories make favourable mention of the same companies who buy advertising with them. He learns that this practice is called “Native Advertising” where an advertisement masquerades as a news story. Native advertising is largely a response to more and more people using adblockers on their web browsers.
Don’t Fear the Reaper. Hullaballoo’s parent company has created an integrated database that receives demographic information from its diverse subsidiaries. There are twenty other on-line publications across a wide variety of interests and sectors that belong to the group and which contribute to this growing demographic database known in-house as “The Reaper”. This detailed demographic information is very valuable as it allows advertisers and marketers to conduct highly targeted campaigns.
Jimmy is put to work customising Hullaballoo’s website to get people to sign up for a free subscription and receive a daily newsletter or weekly digest. But the sign-up web-form asks for much more detailed information than they need for a simple newsletter subscription. In addition to a verified email address, It asks for people’s age, gender, marital status, how many in their household, interests & hobbies, the postcode for where they live, annual income. They cannot complete the subscription unless all of these are provided. This is explained by a simple statement to the effect that this information helps Hullaballoo to tailor their newsletters to people’s interests.
Informed Consent? What is not made clear is that this demographic information goes into a centralised database (Reaper) where it will be used over and over and even sold to third parties to use at their own discretion. Buried deep
in the Terms & Conditions – a 2000 word legal document that the user must click “Accept” to proceed – is that “Hullaballoo reserves the right to sell information to third parties at their sole discretion”. Apparently this satisfies the legal (but what about ethical?) requirement for informed consent.
Jimmy raises his concerns with his boss but is told “don’t worry about it – standard boilerplate text”. He suggested that it would be better to state clearly that by entering their details, the information might subsequently be used to
contact people about deals and offers. He said this was the better way to do informed consent. His boss said “better? … better for who?” Jimmy was directed to put the information in the legal notice.
Hacktivism. Later that year, the Reaper database is hacked and downloaded – complete with 129 million records of people from 53 countries. Not long after the chatter on 4chan-Anonymous makes it known that the database can be acquired for Bitcoins equating to 20,000 US Dollars.
A year has passed, and Jimmy has found himself another job, this time with an ecommerce company located in his home city. It is a full-time position with work locations varying from the main office to various client sites. The work entails developing web-based order-entry user interfaces for various clients. It was Jimmy’s work with the Reaper data collection project that qualified him for the job. His employer did not seem to mind that Jimmy was connected to the notorious Reaper incident as reported in the news.
Alec Smith Quits. Several months after Jimmy started, his boss Alec leaves suddenly – no explanation. In the vacuum, Jimmy sees an opportunity to prove his worth by stepping up and doing Alec’s job until the directors made a decision. After several weeks of competent job performance, Jimmy is confirmed in the team lead role.
But Jimmy notices that two of his three developers (Dev A and Dev B – both hired by Alec) were not competent to perform the work. Dev A and Alec had both previously worked for a different company doing work for a client of Jimmy’s current employer. Furthermore, Dev A still works for the previous employer and is only here as a highly paid contractor.
Dev B is technically competent, but is a new arrival from overseas and is experiencing difficulties settling in to her new environment. She is also a contractor with the same company as Dev A. Dev A does not get his Contract Renewed. This unsatisfactory situation persists for a few more weeks until schedule slippage becomes an issue. At this point Jimmy decides to replace Dev A with someone competent. Dev A becomes angry and confrontational. This, coupled with his poor work performance, prompts Jimmy to ask the vendor to be involved in a review so both the vendor and Dev A could benefit from objective feedback.
Pressure to cancel the Review. Alec (Jimmy’s former boss who left suddenly) contacts Jimmy soon after and in a closed meeting, asked Jimmy to retract his request for a performance review, as he, Alec, says that he might want to re-hire Dev A for future projects. He asks Jimmy to contact the vendor saying that he would not require a performance review for Dev A, and that there were no issues with his performance.
Jimmy refuses both requests. Not long after this the project was somewhat surprisingly placed on hold by the client. The project scope had crept alarmingly to the point where it was thought that delivery by the required date would be impossible. An internal audit was conducted to investigate the reasons for the project slippage.
Payback Time. When the project was halted and ultimately cancelled the development team was released. Jimmy was approached by another senior development manager, Ben, to come work for him. A job interview was arranged
but the day before Ben rang Jimmy to say that the interview was cancelled. Jimmy would not be considered due to a bad report. Ben didn’t say who, but Jimmy later found out from a reliable source that it was Alec.
Time passes and Jimmy eventually finds another job, though the rumour about him started by Alec took some time to live down. He goes to work for a competitor of the original ecommerce company (who hired him at the beginning of Part B scenario).
Lunch at the Club. A month into his new job, the CEO invites him to lunch. No ordinary lunch, he is taken to an exclusive men’s club in the city, the kind that is very selective about who is allowed to join, and which is known to be of great use to senior business and government people wishing to do the informal, behind closed doors networking where deals are done while reclining in leather armchairs.
Jimmy is treated to an expensive meal with fine wine in a wood panelled dining room. “Man, this is the good life, I could get used to this!” Over desert, the CEO compliments Jimmy on his performance and hints that he might have a promising career ahead, including nomination for club membership. The boss then casually suggests that a detailed insider report on his earlier employer’s pricing strategy on IT projects might be of ‘some use’ when bidding in future tenders. ‘You’ll do that for us won’t you James, there’s a good chap. Oh, and by the way, we’re thinking about hiring someone you know, Alec Smith. What do you think of him?’
Don’t’ forget the 1000 word component of this assignment that describes how your ethical standards and ability to solve ethical dilemmas has changed over the semester.
No prescribed format for this, simply discuss what you have learned, what capabilities you now have that you did not have before, how this might help you in the future, plus any other noteworthy points you can mention.
Hint: Reflect on what you have learned. Simply giving a week-by-week account of what the content covered is not enough.
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