User interface models are faced with various types of ethical issues. This is most especially because a lot of these ethical issues are subjective, that is, they are largely dependent on an individual’s perception.
Some of the common ethical issues that are associated with user interface models are privacy (Rogers et al., 2007), confidentiality, safety, and intellectual property rights. With the use of intelligent agents in user interface designs, there’s also the ethical issue behind the personification of these agents.
Everybody wants their privacy protected, but this can be compromised by a poorly designed user interface model. An example is if the user interface does not include the correct access permissions to medical records so that only authorized people get to access certain types of medical records or specific details about a patient – for example, limiting this information only to doctors.
Quite similar to this is the breach of confidentiality if, for example, a sotware application is not designed to hide information such as credit card or bank information from the general set of users.
There’s also the issue behind the safety of user interfaces (Gotterbarn, n.d.). For example, does the user interface display all the information that the user needs to make the right decision? Are all the information clearly and visibly displayed? This oversight in the user interface model can cause losses or harm for the system’s users. According to Gotterbarn, (n.d.), anything that poses physical harm is a cause for ethical concern.
Another ethical issue is that of intellectual property rights. Unlike software applications that can be protected by licenses and patents, user interface models are not that easily secured. With the increasing usage of the Internet, it has become so easy to access information. For example, it would be so easy to “copy” a website’s user interface design without the creator of this design knowing. When a user uses a web template created by another, it’s also easy to remove the copyright information on the template.
Finally, the personification of software agents pose ethical issues, especially when it is successfully implemented (Dowling, n.d.). It raises the user’s expectations of the software application’s behavior such that users compare the agent’s behavior to actual human interactions instead of seeing it as just one form of technology.
Privacy and confidentiality issues are more easily addressed just because experts have been trying to address these issues for a long time, and some solutions have been provided to ensure that the privacy and confidentiality of information is not violated. User interface designers should just be careful and thorough in ensuring that the user interface model they choose supports whatever security functions are implemented in the software.
The safety issue can also be easily addressed through a thorough functionality and usability testing of the software. It would be the user interface designers’ responsibility to employ best practices in the interface design. In addition, they should ensure that they have captured all of the user’s needs, considering that users don’t always know what they need. Moreover, it is the user interface designers’ responsibility to ensure that all of the users’ requirements are met.
The issue of intellectual property for user interface designs is more difficult to address as this is not policed in the cyber world. A lot of this knowledge also exists’ in people’s minds, so when an employee leaves a company then they take the knowledge with them (CPA Global, 2011).
Proponents of open innovation advocate for the sharing of ideas and knowledge (CPA Global) lest these ideas become obsolete before they get a chance to be implemented. They also believe that this would, in the end, be beneficial to all parties involved as this would lead to cost savings and faster development of new products and technologies. They also propose the creation of licenses for ideas should there be an insistence in the existence of a protective mechanism for them.
As for the personification of software agents, this has its pros and cons. Perception of them also depends on the users, as different users have different preferences and levels of technological orientation. Creativity in conceptualizing these agents should then be employed to avoid these notions and misconceptions.
While all of these ethical issues are not easy to resolve, the writer believes that solutions can be arrived at through continuous research, usability testing, and gathering of user feedback.
CPA Global. (2011). Industry collaboration: A new era of open innovation. Retrieved from
Dowling, C. (n.d.). Intelligent agents: some ethical issues and dilemmas. Retrieved from
Gotterbarn, D. (n.d.). Ethical considerations in software engineering. Retrieved from
Rogers, Y., Sharp, H., & Preece, J. (2007). Interaction design: Beyond human-computer
interaction (2nd ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons