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Are you wondering how information technology and digitalisation have changed and continue to change the world?

In this course, you will familiarise yourself with central societal questions related to the application of information technology. The matters examined are related, among other things, to the increased use and diversification of information technology, ethical choices, information security and copyright.

Kirjaudu sisään nähdäksesi Moodlen kurssiavaimen.


Ilmoittautuminen ja opintomaksu

75 euros More information

Free quota for University of Helsinki students. They registrate themselves also via Open University's study programme (Enrol), not in WebOodi.

Registration begins 45 days before the beginning of the course.

Please note:

  • If you don't have a Finnish identity number and / or an online banking ID, you should register at the Admission Services of University of Helsinki. See further information on registration
  • Students and international students at the University of Helsinki can enrol on the course with their University of Helsinki username.
  • If you do not have a Finnish personal identity code, please contact the University of Helsinki Admission Services in order to register for the course.

Open University reserves the right to make changes to the study programme.


Bachelor's programme in Science, subject studies in Computer and Data Science study track. The course is available to students from other degree programmes.

The course is recommended to anyone interested in the social, ethical, legal and cultural issues in computing and information and communications technology. No specific prior knowledge on the topic is assumed and no prerequisites are required.

No prerequisites.

After successful completion of the course, the student will be able to:

  • describe some major social promises and risks associated with the developments in information and communications technology, identify some technical solutions and evaluate some hardware and software designs in their social context
  • analyze and formulate ethical arguments and identify some common logical fallacies and express some of the main differences between the major theories in normative ethics
  • explain what professionalism, the ethical responsibility of a professional and professional ethics are about. Knows some major information technology organizations. Can analyze the roles of professionals and public policy in a global computing issue, distinguish between some different views on computer ethics and summarize the main points in the history of the research field
  • identify ethical issues in software development, apply codes of ethics, conduct and practice in decision-making, evaluate the codes and describe some of their strengths and weaknesses, explain the importance of public good in decision-making and identify the progressive stages in a whistle-blowing incident
  • discuss the philosophical foundations of privacy rights and refer to some relevant legislation, give a wide overview of the challenges to privacy in the networked world, including the collection and merging of user data, various kinds of surveillance and cloud computing. Can explain some technological solutions for privacy protection and the importance of proper anonymization. Understands and is able to express the main idea of differential privacy at a general level, describe some background for and some social implications of the so-called hacktivism
  • discuss the philosophical bases of intellectual property, refer to some relevant legislation and discuss some associated problems. The topics include copyright, software patents, licensing and plagiarism. Understands and is able to explain the ideas behind open-source software development and free software. Can distinguish between some relevant and widely-used open source licenses and is able to describe some of the main differences between them
  • identify the aspects of sustainable development, explain how ICT and the choices made by the developers and the users can both promote and threaten sustainable development
  • understands the importance of effective professional communication, including clear documentation, can identify some associated problems, distinguish between different types of collaboration tools and evaluate some of their strengths and weaknesses

The student should also be familiar with the other topics listed under the title "Course content". The topics covered in the course are found in the knowledge area "Social Issues and Professional Practice" as presented in the Computer Science Curricula by ACM and IEEE.

Any stage of studies.

The development of information and communications technology. Some social context and implications.

  • ubiquitous computing, Internet, the Internet of Things, context awareness, artificial intelligence, digitalization, big data, technological convergence, emerging technologies.
  • information society, virtual communities, social media, culture, electronic voting, disinformation, freedom of speech, censorship, data leaks, digital divide, gender issues, accessibility, designing for accessibility and usability.

A look at privacy and security

  • digital footprint, surveillance, some relevant legislation.
  • data security and cybercrime, including data breaches and identity theft.
  • cyberterrorism, information warfare, the vulnerability of the society.

A deeper look at two example cases linked to a number of the topics listed above

Ethics and ethical argumentation

  • ethics, morals, values, norms. Cultural relativism. Virtue ethics, deontology, consequentalism.
  • ethical argumentation (validity, soundness, reductio ad absurdum). Inductive reasoning (strength, causality, the use of analogy). Evaluating stakeholder positions.
  • some common logical fallacies.
  • some attempts at constructing ethical algorithms and heuristics.

Computer ethics

  • different views on the meaning, nature and scope of computer ethics. A brief history of the research field.
  • the nature of professionalism, professional ethics and codes of ethics.
  • some professional organizations. Most importantly ACM, IFIP, IEEE CS and TIVIA. The role in public policy.
  • some codes of ethics, conduct and practice. Most importantly the ACM Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct, the ACM/IEEE Software Engineering Code of Ethics and the ethical guidelines by TIVIA.

Computer ethics, continued

  • applying the codes of ethics, conduct and practice. Examples illustrating various aspects.
  • public good, whistle-blowing.
  • accountability, responsibility and liability. Professional standards and cost considerations.
  • harassment, discrimination. Use policies. Healthy computing environments.
  • keeping up-to-date. Professional credentialing.

Privacy and security revisited

  • the ethical and philosophical point of view. Also hacker ethics, hacktivism and some associated problems.
  • some organizations linked to privacy and security.
  • a look at privacy and security at the organizational level. Anonymization, differential privacy.
  • some other technological solutions for privacy protection. A look at the data security of the individual user.

Intellectual property

  • the ethical point of view, some philosophical foundations and relevant legislation.
  • intangible digital intellectual property. Copyright, software patents, licensing, trade secrets, trade marks.
  • copyright infringements, software piracy, plagiarism. DRM, watermarking.
  • some relevant organizations.
  • open data, open source, free software. Some licenses, including GPL, BSD and CC. Open source appropriate technology.

Sustainable development

  • definition and goals (the UN 2030 agenda).
  • how ICT may potentially foster sustainability. Green computing.
  • the environmental and social impacts of ICT. Energy consumption, sources and harvesting. E-waste, recycling and some associated problems. On the life cycle of ICT machinery.

Professional communication

  • the ethical point of view.
  • documentation, standardization, source code.
  • different forms and dynamics of computer-supported co-operative work.
  • global software development.

Required: the online course material and the referred online sources.

Recommended: Tavani, H. T. Ethics and Technology: Controversies, Questions, and Strategies for Ethical Computing. Third edition or later, John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

There will be lecture recordings accessible after the lecture hours.

The students will write short essays based on the course material and external online sources. The essays should also include some self-reflection and they will be peer-reviewed by the other participants.

There will be online forums for discussion, peer review and guidance given by the lecturer or the tutor.

The exams will be online.

Assessment will mostly be based on the course exam and exercises, with roughly equal weights. In addition, there will be a small online exam, which will be automatically graded and which may be taken only once. While the essays are peer-reviewed, they are nevertheless graded by the tutor or the lecturer.

Successful completion requires 50% of maximal points, including at least 50% from the course exam.

Grading 1 - 5.

Online learning environment Moodle opens on January 14th, 2020.

How to get the Moodle-link and course key?
Next day after registration: log into this study programme with your University of Helsinki username. You will receive more information on the username after registration.

The lectures are on Tuesdays at 5 -7 p.m. from 14th of January to 14th of April 2020. There will be ten lectures. No participation is required if you watch the recordings afterwards.

Both the course exam and the small quiz will be online.

Course exam options:

Wednesday 6.5.2020 5-8 p.m.

Monday 25.5.2020 klo 5-8 p.m.

Monday 8.6.2020 klo 5-8 p.m.

You don’t have to registrate to online examinations.

If you need some special arragements or support for the examination, contact your education specialist at least 10 days beforehand.

Read more:
Instructions for online examinations
Arragements for students in need of special support

Kai Korpimies

The course is part of the subject studies in Computer Science.