Computer software, be it the brain behind our VCR or the program created specifically to run a country's missile defense system, are an absolutely integral part of helping to make our day-to-day lives that much less complicated. But when your blender comes screaming to life in your sleep, or your bank somehow “loses” your life savings and says “you only have 37 cents in that account”, who is to blame? According to liability laws that have been in question since the birth of what might be considered the “modern age of technology”, that's still up in the air. Certainly systems exist to try and protect the average consumer or even a business, but the problem arises when you try to apply your 200 year old laws to the murky realm of computers According to Ethical and Social Issues in the Information Age, if the contract between the provider and the client involves a product, the provider has the responsibility to deliver the product agreed upon on time, in good shape and of quality, and to provide documentation for safe use of the product. The provider of the product is responsible for all liabilities that might arise as a result of use of the product. In liability cases, the provider responsibility depends on the contract and the degree of harm. It is this point that must also be applied to software. For many years, software developers have released partially completed works into the consumer arena calling them beta software. Time after time asking the customer to work for the programmer, then charging for the nearly finished product to the same people who helped make the program usable. This type of practice would not be tolerated in any other industry.
Introducing a few changes in the way that society looks at the software development industry will help improve the relationship between the programmers and the customers. First, introducing a licensing requirement for all software developers could improve the training and provide the ability to regulate unacceptable behavior. As software developers become licensed, they will see that they place that license in jeopardy if they publish subpar programs without supporting them. Licensing will also lend credence to the software development profession that has begun to show signs of being undermined by shoddy workmanship by what we hope to be a few programmers.
A second change would be to create software liability laws. This step will require a bit more work and investment. Creating laws is not always a safe way to effect change. The law must be crafted with great care to prevent loopholes that allows the people it is designed to protect from become victims of it. By creating a law that places the software designer liable for the work they produce, society will have recourse to resolve issues. This process will be slower, but a more powerful way to bring larger companies to fixing know software issues.
The Problem with Software Liability
The problem with software liability is that during the first three decades of computerization, the IT environment was much simpler. Programs and data were internally produced and centrally managed. Today, however, knowledge workers must look beyond the firm to satisfy their information needs. Developments such as executive information systems, computer networks, electronic bulletin boards, and end-user computing demonstrate the scope of this change. Also indicative of this transformation is the need of top managers for information external to the organization (Jones and McLeod, 1986; Sprague and McNurlin, 1986). In response to this technological change, laws concerning information use have also undergone dramatic change. Unfortunately, the evolving legal environment has become a patchwork of new and reapplied laws that offer little clarity on underlying issues. While public awareness of the vulnerability of information systems to misuse is periodically aroused by media coverage of specific incidents, there is a lack of...
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