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The speed at which e-commerce has been adopted in our society is extremely high. This therefore makes the aspect of ethics in e-commerce essential. E-commerce has created numerous opportunities for customer choice, as well as efficiency in economics. E-commerce is internet-based and so employs diverse technology in its operations. This is what makes it different from other businesses transacted face to face. This technological affiliation of e-commerce makes it to have unique ethics, different from the face-to-face transactions. In this paper, I explain what      e-commerce is and explain its characteristics, which differentiate it from the traditional business. In explaining the ethical foundations of e-commerce, the guiding question is, “How are ethics different in e-commerce?” This already shows that ethics in e-commerce are unique. The major concern will therefore be on those ethical aspects, which bring about the difference. The difference only comes in their manifestation. The conclusion will include a call for further research into establishing the uniqueness of e-commerce ethics, and problems this causes.


What is Different about Ethics in E-commerce?

Ecommerce avails an opportunity for business transactions to be conducted electronically through the internet. The business processes including advertisements of products, buying, selling, and paying are done electronically, without physical presence of the buyer and seller. In its nature, e-commerce attracts a great number of people across the world. It has brought efficiency in business, at a reduced rate, since hosting an online business is not expensive. Technology is highly employed in e-commerce, and includes, telephone, and computers (Nardal and Sahin 190).

The utilization of a worldwide internet in e-commerce is advantageous to both consumers and owners of virtual companies. However, the internet presents a new environment, which can easily enhance the violation of ethics in business. Despite the tremendous growth of e-commerce over past years, consumers continue to complain about ethical issues they are faced with. These increased cases of violations of ethics in e-commerce raise concerns whether its unique nature of ethics helps in the propagation of these cases.

Ethics is a critical issue for new businesses in the e-commerce world. New businesses in e-commerce may lose focus on the ethical part and pay more attention to its technological issues. Ethical implications in face-to-face businesses vary with those in e-commerce. For instance, it is harder to regulate selling of alcohol to an underage over the internet than in face-to-face situation. In addition, it is easier to sell weight loss pills to an underweight person over the internet, than in face-to-face transaction. The fact that customers are virtual poses a big challenge to the ethical implications in e-commerce. Therefore, in e-commerce, there are a number of products, which cannot be sold effectively, as the ethical standards cannot be determined.

Ethics are important for orderliness in society. In e-commerce, rules and ethics exist; however, these are violated due to the not-so-strict enforcement, since enforcement of these rules is as well virtual. Cases of crackers, hackers, frauds, cyberburg, and schemes have persisted in   e-commerce. These forms of lawlessness may threaten the ethical and honest e-tailers. It is no doubt that ethics in e-commerce systems is hard to implement. Trust is the major worrying element to both developers and consumers in e-commerce (Leitch and Warren 1-3).

Privacy of consumers is a critical aspect of e-commerce ethics. A breach of consumer privacy may lead to the crashing of business. For instance, in November 1999, the Halifax Bank plc in United Kingdom was forced to temporarily close down its online share dealing after some customers gained access to the information of others online. Therefore, information privacy is uniquely important in e-commerce. However, e-commerce businesses sometimes violate this without knowledge of consumers, through accessing personal information and shopping habits of people on other sites, while doing their market research. These may also use cookies technology to trace web users. The ethical issue of internet security is problematic, as self-regulation has proved impossible. This sharply contrasts with the face-to-face transaction where security issues are easier to deal with. A study conducted by Georgetown University showed that 94 percent of 100 most visited online sites had privacy disclosure (Stead and Gilbert 80).

The technologies employed in e-commerce help in the perpetration of unethical behavior. Cookies are used by online businesses to trace the people who have visited their sites, and in determining potential consumers for specific products. In addition, the Email is commodified in e-commerce. This could have detrimental effects on the practicing company. For instance, Boo.com, Toysmart and CraftShop.com are examples of failed online businesses, which attempted to sell vital data of their customers (Sandoval). Deception in e-commerce comes in form of web spoofing, where an attacker develops a fake website and lures users with an intention of getting their credit card numbers, and other personal information. It is evident therefore that the ethics in e-commerce are easy to breach due to their basing on the internet, and the virtual world. In face-to-face transactions, it is quite hard to violate ethics, since physical presence is guaranteed.


The unique nature of ethics in e-commerce exposes it to possible breaches. However, concerns raised by public have enabled considerable exposure of the state of ethics in e-commerce. Nonetheless, the ever-changing technology will bring more issues that are ethical. Further research into this aspect is essential in order to come up with strategies that will see the strict enforcement of ethics in e-commerce. Alternatively, the internet itself could be used to spotlight this issue.


Works Cited

Stead, Bette and Gilbert, Jackie. “Ethical Issues in Electronic Commerce.” Journal of business

ethics 34(2):2001. 75-85.

Leitch, Shona and Warren, Matthew. “Ethics and Electronic Commerce.” Australian Computer

Society, Inc. 2001.

Sandoval. “Failed dot-coms may be selling your private information.” CNET

News.com, June 29, 2000.

Nardal, Sinan and Sahin, Ayse. “Ethical Issues in E-Commerce on the Basis of Online

Retailing.” Journal of Social Sciences 7 (2): 2011. 190-198.


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