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Ethical Dilemmas in Cyberspace

  • Martha Finnemore


This essay steps back from the more detailed regulatory discussions in other contributions to this roundtable on “Competing Visions for Cyberspace” and highlights three broad issues that raise ethical concerns about our activity online. First, the commodification of people—their identities, their data, their privacy—that lies at the heart of business models of many of the largest information and communication technologies companies risks instrumentalizing human beings. Second, concentrations of wealth and market power online may be contributing to economic inequalities and other forms of domination. Third, long-standing tensions between the security of states and the human security of people in those states have not been at all resolved online and deserve attention.



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1 “The World's Most Valuable Resource Is No Longer Oil, but Data,” Economist, May 6, 2017, But see Bernard Marr, “Here's Why Data Is Not the New Oil,” Forbes, March 5, 2018, which emphasizes the variety and “renewable” nature of data, both of which add to its power,

2 Post, David G., In Search of Jefferson's Moose: Notes on the State of Cyberspace (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009).

3 Laura Stevens and Amrith Ramkumar, “Amazon Hits $1 Trillion Valuation,” Wall Street Journal, September 4, 2018,; and Michael Sheetz, “These Are the Next Companies Poised to Hit $1 Trillion,” CNBC Markets, August 3, 2018,

4 Drew DeSilver, “U.S. Income Inequality, on Rise for Decades, Is Now Highest Since 1928,” Fact Tank, Pew Research Center, December 5, 2013,

5 Paris, Roland, “Human Security: Paradigm Shift or Hot Air?International Security 26, no. 2 (2001), pp. 87102; and Acharya, Amitav, “Human Security: East versus West,” International Journal 56, no. 3 (2001), pp. 442–60.

6 Falk, Richard A., Human Rights and State Sovereignty (New York: Holmes & Meier, 1981); Henkin, Louis, “Human Rights and State ‘Sovereignty,’Georgia Journal of International and Comparative Law 25, no. 1 (1996), p. 31; and Suhrke, Astri, “Human Security and the Interests of States,” Security Dialogue 30, no. 3 (1999), pp. 265–76.

7 Hamelink, Cees J., The Ethics of Cyberspace (London: Sage, 2000), pp. 68.


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Ethical Dilemmas in Cyberspace

  • Martha Finnemore


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