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January 18, 2012
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Home » Ethical Dilemma #1: A Gaggle of Privacy Concerns -- When Truth Conflicts with Loyalty

As Kevin Moss mentioned in his earlier post, the CROA’s Professional Development Committee drafted an ethics code and came up with a set of ethical dilemmas to test it.  In this post we layout the overall concept of ethical dilemmas and propose the first dilemma for you -- our field testers -- to consider.

Ethical Dilemmas:  Four Classics

In his book, How Good People Make Tough Choices, Rushworth Kidder defined an ethical dilemma as a right vs. right choice.  Morals or laws govern right vs. wrong.  We use ethics to choose between right vs. right.  Kidder identified four classic ethical dilemmas:

         Truth vs. loyalty.  Honesty or integrity vs. commitment, responsibility, or promise-keeping.

         Justice vs. mercy.  Fairness, equity, and even-handed application of a principle or rule conflict with compassion or empathy.

         One vs. many.  When the needs of an individual person or group conflicts with the needs of a larger group or society as a whole.

         Short-term vs. long-term.  Now vs. then conflicts arise when immediate needs or desires run counter to future goals or needs.

The names of these individual dilemmas are less important than the fundamental concepts that underlie them.  In the fictional cases we outline below and in subsequent posts we tried to capture one or more of each of these dilemmas and then see how the ethics code might help or be improved based on feedback from individual practitioners playing out the scenario.


Scenario #1:  A Gaggle of Privacy Concerns - A Truth vs. Loyalty Dilemma.

You are the CRO at a large internet search-engine provider.  This morning your company received a request from the Chinese government to provide personal data on some users.  If you provide the data you will break the ethical standards of your parent company, by breaking privacy commitments, and the ‘offenders’ may be arrested.  But if you do not, you will break the law in China and also put some of your employees at risk of imprisonment.    Your CEO has called you to an emergency meeting to figure out how to respond the the Chinese government.  The CROA code is on your desk.  What light -- if any -- does it shed?

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