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Issue No 003

Vol. 3 - August 2005
Search Engines

The third edition of the ‘IRIE – International Review of Information Ethics’ (06/2005) and the first under its new title after having been renamed from IJIE (due to a name similarity with another infoethics journal) is dedicated to the focal subject “Search Engines”.

In his essay “Funktionen, Probleme und Regulierung von Suchmaschinen im Internet (Function, Problems, and Regulation of Search Engines in the Internet – an extended abstract in English is enclosed)”, Christoph Neuberger reports on this debate in Germany as well as on the most recent results of the communication sciences. Furthermore, we publish an English translation of the “Code of Conduct” which also was developed in the context of the already mentioned research project. Important aspects like “Ethical and Political Issues in Search Engines” (Hinman), the necessity of the “Symmetry in Confidence” in search engines (Rieder), search engines and their relation to the “Ethical subject” (Blanke) and finally the “Problem of Privacy in Public” (Tavani) are treated by these four English contributions.

The issue is supplemented by two articles that do not fall under the focus of ‘search engines’ but complement it in one or the other way. Thomas Hoeren argues in ‘Laws, Ethics and Electronic Commerce’ that the Internet is leading to a dematerialization, deterritorialization, extemporalisation and depersonalisation of law and thereby the legal system loses its traditional (Roman law) roots (person, space, time). Secondly, the ‘Attitudes of UK Librarians and Librarianship Students to Ethical Issues’ have been empirically examined by Kevin Ball and Charles Oppenheim.

Finally the reviews provided in this issue for the first time and from now on regularly shall introduce and/or discuss important and interesting publications in the field of information ethics. You are all invited for suggestions and/or volunteering for writing a review on request.

We hope you once again can enjoy this issue. It may inspire your thinking, scientific working and your personal and professional practice.


Michael Nagenborg, Guest Editor, and
Rafael Capurro, Thomas Hausmanninger, Karsten Weber
and Felix Weil, the Editors.

Full Journal
pdf-fulltext (890 KB)

Editorial: On IJIE
Language: English
pdf-fulltext (26 KB)

Funktionen, Probleme und Regulierung von Suchmaschinen im Internet
by Christoph Neuberger
Language: German
abstract:   Suchmaschinen haben eine Orientierungs- und Speicherfunktion im Internet. Der Wettbewerb zwischen Google, Yahoo und Microsoft, der im Jahr 2004 an Schärfe gewonnen hat, wird als „Krieg der Architekturen“ interpretiert, bei dem es letztlich darum geht, allgemeine Standards für die Aufbereitung und Suche digitaler Informationen zu setzen. Die Frage, wie groß der Einfluss des Marktführers „Google“ auf die Aufmerksamkeitslenkung im Internet ist, lässt sich noch nicht abschließend beantworten. Gegen ein „Googlepol“ spricht zum Beispiel, dass viele Nutzer parallel auch bei anderen Anbietern suchen. Die Qualität der Suchmaschinen-Ergebnisse wird nicht nur durch technische Schwächen, sondern in wachsendem Maße auch durch externe und interne Formen der Manipulation beeinträchtigt. In der letzten Zeit haben sich Suchmaschinen-Betreiber und Suchmaschinen-Optimierer in Selbstverpflichtungserklärungen auf Regeln geeinigt, durch die mehr Transparenz für die Nutzer geschaffen und das Problem des „Spamming“ von Suchmaschinen gelöst werden soll.
pdf-fulltext (182 KB)

Extented Abstract: Function, Problems, and Regulation of Search Engines in the Internet
by Christoph Neuberger
Language: English
abstract:   Search engines are the most used type of offer in the internet. However, they have hardly been analyzed yet in communications sciences. Most of all, search engines have an orientation function but at the moment are also increasingly significant as stores of information. Thus, the market leader Google in 2004 made an agreement with five big libraries on digitalizing 15 millions of books and documents. Particularly in France this announcement provoked reaction, as they said that a cultural inequality was to be feared if predominantly literature in the English language was made accessible in this way.
pdf-fulltext (53 KB)

Code of Conduct: Transparency in the Net: Search Engines
by Carsten Welp and Marcel Machill
Language: English
pdf-fulltext (19 KB)

Esse est indicato in Google: Ethical and Political Issues in Search Engines
by Lawrence M. Hinman
Language: English
abstract:   Search engines play an increasingly pivotal role in the distribution and eventual construction of knowledge, yet they are largely unnoticed, their procedures are opaque, and they are almost completely devoid of independent oversight. In this paper the author examines three areas in which we encounter difficult and persistent ethical issues in search engine technology: The problem of algorithm and the lack of transparency of the search process, the problem of privacy with regards of the possibility to monitor search histories, and the problem of local censorship. The given findings lead to the conclusion that the development of structures of accountability for search engines is an important task for the near future.
pdf-fulltext (139 KB)

Networked Control: Search Engines and the Symmetry of Confidence
by Bernhard Rieder
Language: English
abstract:   Search engines have become an integral part of our Internet use. They shape the way we look at the world, they provide orientation where there is none; but the maps they draw are too often hijacked by commercial interest. Search engines are less black box than black foam; functional decoupling, parasite technologies, and the embedding in the greater context of culture and society render the search act subject to overdetermination. Control is thus diluted into a dense network of human and non-human “actants” and the power of the search engine is located in a control zone rather than a control center. In order to shift power back to the public, this paper proposes the concept of “symmetry of confidence”, a new relationship between search engine companies and their users.
pdf-fulltext (132 KB)

Ethical subjectification and search engines: ethics reconsidered
by Tobias Blanke
Language: English
abstract:   This article will explore the relation of search engines to the freedom they invoke in human subjects. Away from questions about the social impact of search engines and their ethical use, it shall investigate the influence of search engines on ethical subjectifications. The article will criticise the common critique that search engines should only deliver neutral and objective results to their users, where ‘neutral’ and ‘objective’ are defined as anti-subjective. On the contrary, it will argue that search engines are designed to deliver subjective results. A possible ethical critique starts therefore where they fail to do so. Due to reasons immanent to the technology, search engines are never subjective enough in their relevance decisions. Their results collide at the same time with what their users expect them to deliver. The article will show that, far from being a disadvantage, this disagreement between the users’ expectations and the search engines results is what triggers an ethical subjectification.
pdf-fulltext (112 KB)

Search Engines, Personal Information and the Problem of Privacy in Public
by Herman T. Tavani
Language: English
abstract:   The purpose of this paper is to show how certain uses of search-engine technology raise concerns for personal privacy. In particular, we examine some privacy implications involving the use of search engines to acquire information about persons. We consider both a hypothetical scenario and an actual case in which one or more search engines are used to find information about an individual. In analyzing these two cases, we note that both illustrate an existing problem that has been exacerbated by the use of search engines and the Internet – viz., the problem of articulating key distinctions involving the public vs. private aspects of personal information. We then draw a distinction between “public personal information” (or PPI) and “nonpublic personal information” (or NPI) to see how this scheme can be applied to a problem of protecting some forms of personal information that are now easily manipulated by computers and search engines – a concern that, following Helen Nissenbaum (1998, 2004), we describe as the problem of privacy in public.
pdf-fulltext (119 KB)

Law, Ethics and Electronic Commerce
by Thomas Hoeren
Language: English
abstract:   Unlike the Internet community had expected electronic commerce does not lead to an anarchic dissolution of law. In the context of electronic trade, problems arising between users and providers can be solved, for instance by applying traditional principles of contract law. And yet, the legal dispute of Internet related facts and circumstances gives rise to a number of interesting topoi. Even though these subjects have already been considered in the past (for instance in the context of satellite technology), they only now show their specific explosive effect and diversity in the face of the electronic commerce.
pdf-fulltext (167 KB)

Attitudes of UK Librarians and Librarianship Students to Ethical Issues
by Kevin Ball and Charles Oppenheim
Language: English
abstract:   There have been a number of studies examining the attitudes of librarians to ethical dilemmas, but few examining them in comparison with Library and Information Science students as we did in our study. According to that UK librarians and students in general hold surprisingly similar ethical attitudes. We expected the students to be more liberal, more willing to uphold idealistic principles, and given their student status, with attitudes balanced in favour of other students' and patrons' rights in terms of fees, and accessibility, and copyright law. On the contrary, in many areas such as Internet filtering, looking at online erotic images, and removing books at the request of patrons, we found practitioners more liberal than the students. A reason for that might be that the students are keen to emulate what they perceive to be a conservative and mature outlook, i.e., a stance of responsibility, as a pressing concern for ILS students is likely to be the establishment of a career. Though there is a fair level of teaching ethical issues it seems to lead into a mediocre level of student awareness of basic issues or of the CILIP Code which is meant as a 'framework' to help information professionals 'manage the responsibilities and sensitivities which figure prominently in their work' (CILIP 2003).
pdf-fulltext (114 KB)

Review: CyberMedienWirklichkeit. Virtuelle Welterschließungen
by Ricarda Drüeke
Language: English
pdf-fulltext (46 KB)

Review: Readings in Virtual Research Ethics. Issues and Controversies.
by Johannes J. Frühbauer
Language: English
pdf-fulltext (68 KB)

Review: The plurality of moral challenges in information societies and the need for systematic thinking
by Karsten Weber
Language: English
pdf-fulltext (69 KB)


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