There is a constant struggle to expand the circle of inclusion for ethical thought in discourse. This is often aimed at natural environments – animals, plants, ecosystems – but what about digital persons? With the development of games such as World of Warcraft and EverQuest and online communities such as Second Life, digital beings are becoming an integral part of people’s lives. What of our ethical domain transfers into this digital world? This question was debated when an early multi-user role-playing game had a user digitally control and rape other users (Dibbell). What did this mean? The community came together and discussed the issue, but was unable to reach a conclusion. An administrator of the game arbitrarily deleted the offender’s account. However, the question of ethical dimensions in a digital world was not answered. Do our physical ethics exist in a digital world? They must if the load of information that exists on the Internet is to be dealt with appropriately. We cannot lose the trust that we’ve built into our system of digital exploration, and this requires us to extend our circle to include our digital personas as well. Has this technology created more harm than good? Barbour warms that, “technology has created subtle ways of manipulating people and new techniques of electronic surveillance and psychological conditioning.” What will be the cost of these new techniques to our physical and digital personas?

I think that it is critical to look at how trust develops on the Internet, maintain this first pass, and then improve on it. When the ability to purchase online became an option, my mom refused to do so. Why? She didn’t think that should trust online retailers. How can one trust an individual who can memorize and then use your credit card, but not trust a machine that is built to protect your information? There was a barrier between the physical meaning of trust and the virtual meaning of trust. This barrier has crumbled for my mom, and others as well. This is because Internet commerce has found a way to build healthy relationships between the companies and the consumers. However, I know that my mom won’t store her credit card information in their databases. Ease of use has not yet won over her need to feel financially secure. This suggests to me that there are varying levels of trust, and that each time an incident of exposed data is revealed, that level of trust takes another step backwards. So how do we build trust? I think a more open attitude is required here. It is the inability to discern when information is being gathered, and how it is being used, that leads to the breakdown of trust between physical persons and online companies. Building trust is an integral part of the evolution of information and identity on the Internet.

This is one place where the government could make a big, positive difference. Already having displayed its ability to mine such information (Jordan), the government should now take an active role in regulating how this information can be handled and economized. This would give a legitimacy to the Internet businesses who need to use the information for business practices, but protect the consumer from the potential harms of data mining, accidentally released data, and data solicitation. If the consumer’s voice was backed by a government regulatory agency, then we would start to see the kind of information maintenance needed to help the Internet grow without threatening individual’s identity’s. This does not give the government access to this kind of information. Though it is an overseer, it must be one through a black box model. It can check inputs and outputs, and when results are incorrect go back and tweak the inside mechanics, but it should not actively be involved with the data itself. It seems that the government has already shown that it cannot ethically be the body where data is stored and distributed (Jordan), but should attempt to repair the damages done by enacting a more public policy of better governance over data garnered through the Internet.