It definitely seems that the Internet is a normative vacuum where anyone can state almost anything without being held accountable. The power of the Internet has become so huge that it is now used widely.
What regulates the behavior on the internet? Laws? Ethics? Cyberspace rules? Is ethics on the internet guided by the same rules as in the non-digital world?
Nothing really regulates behaviors on the Internet. Obviously, you have legal instruments that have been set in some countries. Yet, it seems that their effectiveness is still to be proved. Besides, given that regulations are uneven at the international level, any regulations in a given country would be challenged by actors in others places ill-regulated. The issue with regulations is that they must go along with formal sanctions, which disqualify ethics, and consequently with resources to both check the Internet and sue those who violate rules. It is time consuming, and it has a cost that many countries are not ready to assume.
As far as ethics is concerned, behind digital behaviors are hidden individuals. So their ethics is basically the same as in the non-digital world. For some actors it is clear that being hidden helps them behave in a way they would not dare elsewhere. Being hidden gives you the feeling of impunity. Behaving through keyboards and screens create a moral buffer that gives us much more freedom to express our dark sides.
Nonetheless, until there will be fully autonomous artificial intelligence systems that will make decisions by themselves, those human beings that are acting behind the veil of computers do apply the same moral rules as all of us. The difference ifs that our choices in terms of how to act are less constrained so we can easily get freed from our social inhibitions and express our darkest side.
In general free-of-charge online services (searching engines, social media, for example) commercialize personalized ads based on users’ online experience. Is it fair and ethical to charge users with customized offers to use a service?
That is a tricky question. Basically, my point would be to stress that ethical doesn’t mean good. Both words are not synonymous. So strictly speaking everything is ethical in the philosophical sense since ethics is the appraisal of what is bad and good. The real question is, is it ethically acceptable? Then the answer depends on who you are asking. For those who benefit from these practices are perfectly acceptable. They are huge sources of revenue, they provide some people with jobs and salary, they even consider that their services are helping consumers to make choices in a faster and better way. For those who disagree with that it is obviously not acceptable. The issue here is that most of the time there is a huge hypocrisy from those who are complaining against this kind of practices. Indeed, we all offer tons of data without even wondering how they will be used. We like to flaunt ourselves on social network providing others with data that are very personal and that can be used in a harmful way.
Most of the time we forget that as users we are as responsible for what is happening on the net as those we are lecturing or condemning for their misbehaviors. It is very human and very comfortable to put the blame on others without questioning one’s own behavior.