GPS tracking: Ethical or not?


In the modern society, GPS tracking is becoming more and more common. It can be found in many areas of our lives, such as cell phones and cars. GPS is a powerful tool. U.S. Appeals Court Judge Douglas Ginsburg wrote:

“A person who knows all of another’s travels can deduce whether he is a weekly church goer, a heavy drinker, a regular at the gym, an unfaithful husband, an outpatient receiving medical treatment, an associate of particular individuals or political groups — and not just one such fact about a person, but all such facts.”

The ethical issues of using GPS always revolve around the invasion of privacy. However, the definition of privacy is often vague. Currently, no laws are violated for the use of GPS, leading to the rise of numerous ethical issues regarding GPS tracking. In this essay, we are going to discuss why the use of GPS technology causes deep controversies.


Uses of GPS

A Global Positioning System(GPS) has many different functions, such as tracking criminals and parolees, watching spouse who may be cheating, tracking children and teens, employers watching over employees, spying strangers etc.

Tracking criminals and parolees

In the United States, GPS devices such as Trackstick, are secretly installed on the criminals’ cars without their consent. People believe that this can help to prevent crimes as criminals will not be able to make any movement, since they are under the police watch. However, there comes the question of whether this theory really works. This is a quote from an article of CNN that questions this theory:

Experts say GPS can create a false sense of security [when used to track criminals] because its capabilities are overestimated. Jill Levenson, an associate professor of human sciences at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida, said many people believe it is “some magic bullet or panacea that prevents crimes.”

Tracking spouse

All marriage has an unspoken rule: You should be faithful to your spouse. Husband and wife should treat each other with respect. You will not be able to know if the other party has cheated on you as they will not admit it in your face. The use of GPS can help one to collect evidence and proof that the other party is a cheater.

Tracking children

Children are at an age where they are vulnerable to dangers. Tracking them with GPS can help to prevent them from getting abducted by strangers, or help to spot their location when they lose their way. Some day care centers in Sweden use GPS to keep track of the children on events such as outings.

Tracking teens

Teens like to keep secrets from their parents. This forces parents to install GPS on them as they are worried about their safety. However, teens are difficult to control. Once they spot the tracking device, they are able to find millions of way to undo them due to the vast amount of information on the Internet. GPS is rendered ineffective when it comes to teens.

Tracking employees

No doubt, GPS is an efficient tool that helps employers save tons of money by watching over the employees’ movement. One example of GPSs used by business is the package delivery service. GPS helps to check whether a particular employee travelled to other locations during package delivery. Business are able to save time and fuel and they can find the shortest route that helps to increase efficiency.

Tracking strangers

Tracking strangers can lead to an extreme action known as stalking. Stalking others is easy for someone who is tech savvy as they can hack into GPS-enabled cell phone. This enables them to track someone 24 hours per day. This is frightening as god knows what the stalker is planning as they know our every movement, even behind closed doors.



Imagine someone spying on you 24 hours a day using GPS. Every single movement you made will be known by someone close to you or worse, some stranger you’ve never even seen before. GPS tracking infringes our basic freedom as human beings. You live in fear as you don’t know what the person watching you is plotting. In a real case example, a man in Ontario found a GPS tracking device under his car. He mentioned that he and his wife couldn’t sleep well at night and they lost sleep at night crying about it. This invasion of privacy can even lead to mental breakdown if it continues for a long time.

The people using GPS devices to track others may gain a moment of pleasure and relieve as they are able to know other people’s movements. If the person they are watching is a close one, once they find out, their relationship will not return back to the way it used to be. For parents watching their teenage children, their parent-child relationship will be torn apart. For wife watching husband, there will be red flags in their marriage. Will they be happy by that time?

Kantian Theory

People use GPS with a simple motive: To know what someone is up to. It is not always bad to watch someone, it depends on who is other party is. If your daughter is being kidnapped by someone, you can use GPS to track her location, saving her in time. Many people argued whether police watching criminals is necessary as it is not always useful. Example: A sex offender equipped with GPS device raped and murdered a thirteen year old girl. I think installing GPS on criminals can minimise the harm that they will cause to society. The criminals know that they are being watched by police, thus they will be aware of their own actions. However, can this totally eliminate crime? If one day, the police decided to stop watching them, it is safe for us to say, they are no longer a potential harm?


GPS tracking is a double edge sword. It can be a valuable asset when it is used to maximise the general welfare of the society. However, many people choose to use it for their own selfish means. In my opinion, we can use GPS tracking, but only for emergency cases.

~Hui Shan









Citizen Journalism: A Rising Phenomenon

Citizen Journalism can be defined as “public citizens playing an active role in the process of collecting, reporting, analysing and disseminating news or information”. With the advent of new media, citizen journalism is now more accessible to people worldwide than ever before, allowing citizens to report fresh and breaking news more quickly than traditional media reporters. Certain major world events that have seen the use of citizen journalism include the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street movement.[1]

The scope of this post will be limited to the Singaporean context of online citizen journalism. Analysis will be from a Singaporean perspective, pertaining to local issues that have tugged at our heartstrings and affected us in one way or another.


Have you seen this video?

If you live in Singapore and haven’t been living in a cave for the past few months, chances are you would recognize this as one of the many videos, taken by ordinary citizens like you and me, which have gone viral almost instantaneously after it has been uploaded onto the internet.

It features a dispute between a young lady and an elderly woman over a “priority-seat” on the MRT. In it, the young lady gave up the seat to the elderly woman, but the elderly woman is ungrateful, and berates the young lady for not automatically giving up her seat without her asking. This escalates into a heated argument that draws the attention of the peak-hour evening crowd which ends when the young lady decides to back down and avoid further conflict by moving to another cabin on the MRT.

All this while, Mr Muhammad Khair, a 21-year-old student, intrigued by this turn-of-events, was recording this incident on his mobile phone camera nearby. He later sent the video to citizen journalism website STOMP. It has since garnered massive reactions online and has been published in various newspapers such as The New Paper. A copy of the video has also been uploaded to video sharing site Youtube, where it has received more than 150,000 views. That young lady, has since been nicknamed the “Most Polite Ah Lian”, and that elderly lady, the “Priority Seat Auntie”.[2]

Image-capturing devices and the internet – A deadly combination

With the increasing popularity of websites such as STOMP and Youtube, as well as forums such as HardwareZone, there are more outlets for citizen journalism nowadays. Such acts of vigilantism have, without a doubt, a huge impact on the parties involved. In the case above, the young lady, whose name was later found to be Huina in an interview with The New Paper, has been widely hailed as a hero online, while the “Priority Seat Auntie” has been criticized for her actions by most netizens.[3]

While all’s well that ends well for this incident, we should still take note of the pervasive impact that citizen journalism has on our lives. We now live in a society in which any minor embarrassing act that we do in public can possibly be clandestinely recorded and distributed online, causing much shame to us and quite possibly creating a “bad reputation” for us online, which can have future implications on our lives, careers and families. Are such acts of vigilantism wrong? Should we be infringing on other people’s privacy by taking photos or videos of them without their permission and posting it online, or writing about them on the internet? Where do we draw the line between exposing people for their ugly acts, and drawing unnecessary attention upon members of the public by exposing their seemingly minor and insignificant acts of ungraciousness online?

Ethical Analysis of Online Citizen Journalism

Benefits and harms of such acts of citizen journalism: Act Utilitarism

Obviously, such news garners controversy for a reason. People are interested to read about it, it is fresh, unique and interesting content for people who surf the net regularly. People would be more than happy to read about such entertaining stuff, and we can look at it as increasing the happiness of people who have access of the content.

There has also been cases in which genuinely nasty acts has been exposed. For example, 25-year-old Alex Ong argued with and pushed an elderly woman off the bus, just because he was frustrated that she had pressed the bell for the bus to stop at the last minute. A video of this incident was captured and has since made its rounds on the internet.

This incident as also received mainstream media coverage. His actions has since been widely criticised, and he has apologized for his act.[4]By exposing such acts online, one can expect that similar acts in the future will be deterred.

However, we need to consider that people may have different standards for what they consider a genuinely ugly and reprehensible act, and what they consider just mild and trival acts of ungraciousness that are more of an annoyance rather than something considerably more serious.

We also need to think about the fact that, as I mentioned earlier, the parties involved in such acts inevitably receive a lot of unwanted attention. Distress would be brought upon the people featured, and they would probably also have to endure some form of personal harassment due to their misdeeds being exposed people trying to find out more about them, however trivial their acts are. In addition, third parties such as friends and family members might be affected from the increased exposure as well.

Case in point: Xiaxue, a highly popular online blogger, took it upon herself to expose some of her online detractors with their real-life personal details in her blog, due to their abusive comments on pictures of her and her friends.[5] This has not only led to them being flamed online, but also quite possibly resulted in some unnecessary exposure for their families as well.

Rule Utilitarianism: What if everyone started to take to online citizen journalism?

If everyone decided to become vigilantes and started to expose any small acts of ungraciousness or wrongdoing in society, it would definitely cause distress to everyone as they would have to always be careful not to do anything wrong for fear of being shamed online. While this might lead to most people cleaning up their acts, it would also create an unhealthy level of fear and aloofness in society, leading to an overall decrease in happiness in society. As we can see, citizen journalism is morally wrong if we analyse it using rule utilitarism.

Evaluating citizen journalism using Kantiantism

What if everyone started recording and posting online about anything they do not see eye-to-eye to, or more simply, anything that they find interesting and news worthy? The internet would be flooded with tons of content, most of which would be irrelevant to us. We would have to spend so much time sifting through all that stuff online if we ever wanted to read something that we are interested in. People would have different accounts and different perspectives on a particular event. No one would ever take citizen journalism seriously anymore. Citizen journalism would absolutely not work out if everyone started doing it, if it became a universal rule.

Social Contract Theory analysis

It would make sense that most people would want their rights to privacy to be respected. This means that rational people simply would not agree to others being able to take photos or videos of them at any time or any place. From a social contract standpoint, citizen journalism is wrong because it is probably not something that rational people would collectively accept, because it would mean that others could freely take pictures, videos or even write about them if they deem fit, and that is something that anyone who respects privacy would never want.

From the perspectives of others?

Parties that provide outlets for acts of online citizen journalism (i.e. Video hosting websites, citizen journalism websites, forums)

As popular hosts of new and refreshing content, it is understandably imperative that they want to be continually updated with interesting and unique content provided by their users. Most of these websites are profit-driven after all, and it makes no sense that they would want to compromise their popularity regulate the contributions of their users if they do not have to. However, I still feel that they should not allow content that could hurt or be damaging for the people featured in it, especially if these people are unknowing victims of online citizen journalism.

Government/legal regulatory bodies

Should there be outlets for people who have had photos or videos of them posted online without their permission to seek redress? Should photography or videography of strangers without their consent be outlawed? Unfortunately, while victims of false truths being spread about them online can seek legal redress for defamation, there is little that can be done about pictures or videos that are not obscene or do not violate internet media laws. Neither can they claim defamation for truths about them. Providing victims of unauthorised online publications about them with legal avenues of seeking redress would provide some form of fairness towards genuinely innocent victims. However, allowing this to happen would not only ruin citizen journalism, which, as I had mentioned earlier, may not be a bad thing, but also potentially affect certain fields such as news reporting and creative photography, or videography for that matter.

In Conclusion

The act of citizen journalism itself isn’t inherently bad in itself; in fact, if done correctly, it can be a really boon to society in exposing and deterring bad behaviour, and even in recognizing gracious acts and bringing interesting news to the general public that traditional media might never have been able to uncover. However, many would agree that arguably the greatest argument against such user-generated content would be the infringement of privacy for unknowing people featured in such content. Additionally, most of the ethical theories seem to agree with citizen journalism being morally wrong.

At the end of the day though, I feel that online regulation by providers of outlets for such acts citizen journalism would probably be the best way to go about eradicating irresponsible content providers, but this is inherently difficult in itself, given the sheer amount of content that has to be regulated.Until next time, ciao!

-Chun Leong



Other References

  • (for the videos)

Downloading music


In today’s post, I would like to highlight on an issue that most of us are familiar with- downloading music. In my opinion this topic is rather interesting to discuss. Here we will discuss the stakeholders and their stands, and also whether it is illegal to download music using ethical theories. Of course there are services like iTunes which allow us to download music legally with a fee.



It is quite disheartening to see that most countries that rank around the top range in the above list are developed or developing countries, where one would generally assume that it is relatively affordable to purchase the songs, however people would rather spend their money on other things than to purchase the songs they like.

The IPI study showed that downloading music illegally caused a loss of more than 70,000 jobs in USA in 2005.



Music plays an important role in the entertainment industry and for a consumer.


Eg. Sony Music, Warner Music, Universal Music

Their profits drop due to fewer album sales. Ultimately consumers stand to lose as a result because new artists cannot be signed and current artists may be dropped from the company.


In the past, if people wanted to get a song they had to buy the album. However people believe that it is fine to download music now. Since the music is available for free to download, there is no need to purchase the album. Some may also argue that in this information age information is free and accessible to everyone so why should music be a restriction or exception? Also if one only wants a particular song, why should he purchase the entire album?


Eg. Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, Kanye West, Enrique Iglesias

Artists make a living out of music. Is it right to steal someone’s livelihood? Without the sales, would their contracts with the record labels be continued or renewed? They would also have lesser fan-bases without promotion done by the record labels. Furthermore, artists do not really earn much till their albums sell above a threshold amount.



As individual decision makers, we must think ethically whether it is ethically right to download music. However, unlike stealing, downloading music is something people may not see as a wrong act because everyone does it.



The motives of illegally downloading music are often very simple such as the convenience for users, the cost, being able to select the songs they like and helping their favourite artists widen their fan base.  However if everyone starts to download music for free, then there would be no incentive for new songs to be created and one cannot get to hear new songs. Doesn’t it sound like a logical contradiction?
Furthermore, by doing this we are using people as means to end which goes against Kant’s idea that people should be treated as ends.



The consequences of illegally downloading music are like I mentioned earlier, a loss in jobs and livelihood. Tax revenue would decrease if unemployment rises, thus standard of living may fall. Also on a personal level, downloading music increases the vulnerability of the computer to viruses and spyware, which is almost impossible to get rid of. To add there is a risk of being sued and having to pay damages. A paradigm example would be Joel Tenenbaum who was ordered to pay damages after being sued for illegally downloading songs over a decade ago. Worse still, one may even be sent to jail. While although downloading music illegally gives the consumer happiness, usually that happiness is short-lived and transient as it is soon replaced by another song. On the other hand, the unhappiness faced by the other affected parties (i.e. the record labels, artists, and people working in the entertainment industry) is much longer and more significant. The total happiness of the affected parties is thus increased to a little extent. Using the cost-benefit analysis, since the consequences of illegally downloading music are dire and the extent to which it increases the happiness of the affected parties, it is ethically wrong to download music based on act utilitarianism.


– Replace fancy album covers 

Most people buy the album for its contents, i.e. the songs and not the outlook. By replacing the fancy album cover with a simple one this could reduce the costs incurred and this cost savings can be passed on to the consumers, in terms of cheaper prices.

– Contents of the album and cut down the songs in the album

People are often deterred to buy an album as they already know which songs they like and want to listen to only those songs and would not want to buy the entire album for say just 2 songs.  There can be fewer songs in the album and these songs should be the ones that are most popular with the public.



Although most of us generally know that downloading music is illegal and the possibility of getting caught, many still choose to download music as it is a free alternative to purchasing the music album or purchasing the song online. Hopefully, there will be a decline in the number of illegal downloads of music over the years to come if the albums and even legal downloads can become more affordable for the masses.




Should She Build The System?

In class, we have discussed about the case of whether Jones should continue building the system for her client, knowing that there are risks involved. In my opinion, Jones should not build the system for her client.


Using Kantianism to analyze this case, Jones did the right thing to inform her client about the possible security loopholes if her client chose the system which costs less, so the client is fully aware of the consequences of choosing the system with only the basic security precautions. Jones acted professionally according to code 1.03 and code 2.09 from the “Software Engineering Code of Ethics and Professional Practice”. However, if she chose to build this system for her client, it would be a potential harm to the client as the system with only the basic security precautions would be more susceptible to crash and system failure in the future, which would taint the company’s reputation, causing the company to suffer a loss in profits. Hence, building the system with basic security features would be treating the client as a means to an end to secure the contract, which could only be a short-term benefit for the company, but not in the long run.


Evaluating this case using act utilitarianism, Jones would have caused a greater happiness in her company and her client if they signed the contract, as her company would be glad to secure the deal and her client satisfied at the low cost. However, the system is less sustainable as it contains only the basic security features. The client would be unhappy if the system fails, and would not want to engage in further collaborations with Jones’ company. Also, the reputation of Jones’ company would be jeopardized. Even if Jones’ company offered help to sustain the system, it is unlikely that the company would retain the client’s trust. From a rule utilitarian point of view, if many other professionals like Jones start building systems with basic security features for their clients, more and more companies would face increasing problems in terms of managing corporate information security, which could lead to a rise in the number of hackers and people who illegally access the company’s information and use it for malicious purposes. Hence, it is unwise for Jones to build the system for the client.


Some contenders may argue that Jones has already acted professionally by informing her client about the possible risks involved in purchasing the system with basic security features. As the client was fully aware of the risks before he decided on purchasing this system, he would have expected the system to run with possible faults and problems as he chose to compromise the sustainability of the system by spending a lesser amount of money. However, as a professional in the field, Jones would be held liable if there is a system breakdown. The company that Jones works for would probably suffer a loss of reputation and the company’s future would be jeopardized just because of this incident.

On the whole, although Jones has already informed the client about the possible risks involved in purchasing the system with basic security features, she should continue to act professionally by refusing to build the system for the client. In fact, this would result in the greatest happiness for all parties involved in the long run.