Geek Ethicist


“Dear Ethicist,
I have a new business and I need someone to host my website.  A close friend just started a web hosting business and wants me to use her web hosting company.  It would be good advertising for her, but I am not sure her web hosting will meet my needs.  Should I go with a reliable web hosting company that has enough server space to meet my needs and good customer service or should I go with my friend? I don’t want to hurt my friend or imply that her company isn’t good enough for me. I value her friendship but also feel like I can’t take a chance with my website.

Dear Undecided,
You have to make a choice:  Is your primary goal to start a successful business of your own or is your primary goal to help your friend learn the ropes of web hosting?  If your goal is to begin a successful business, which is difficult under the best of circumstances, then look for the best possible web hosting that you can afford.  If the success of your business is less important than helping your friend, then consider using your friend’s service.

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Keep in mind that even if you choose your friend’s service this business relationship will still put a strain on your friendship.  Every error she makes will drive you two further apart even if you are fully forgiving.  Your friend wants to start a successful web hosting business and will suffer a loss of pride if she fails in your full view.    You really only have two workable options:  either go into partnership with your friend in the hosting business, or make a decision based entirely what is in the best interest of your business enterprise and tell her this is simply a business decision.  I recommend the latter option.  It will more likely preserve your friendship and get your own business off to a good start.
Geek Ethicist

“Dear Ethicist,
I’m a web designer and a cartoonist.  I discovered some of my work was being taken by others and posted without giving me credit.  I’m not greedy about this but one guy was using my material and consistently making money from it.  I sent a cease and desist order, sort of, but I didn’t hire a lawyer.  I just wanted him to stop ripping me off. He stopped for a while, but then started using my stuff again. Finally, I got angry and made a series of raunchy comics portraying him as a crook.  I planned to embarrass him into stopping.  Instead he sued me.  In the end it worked out for the greater good, but I still wonder if it was a mistake to make the comics trashing him.  Honestly though, I’m glad I did because he had it coming.   What’s your take?

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Dear Philosoraptor,
Taking the law into your own hands is dangerous. I am not a lawyer, so I am unequipped to comment on the legality of this case.  Since you were sued you know better than I anyway.  That aside, you are asking if online revenge is justified.  Obviously it felt good to punish this guy: he was stealing your material.  The problem with revenge born of righteous indignation is that it feels good.  But despite the satisfaction you felt, you should not have done it.

If you were a nation unto yourself your attack might have been justified.  In effect, you waged a propaganda war on a pirate stealing your comics.  Fine for nations.  The lawless relationship between nations and pirates readily shifts into a state of war, where the only virtues are force and fraud.  But the Internet is not a state of nature.   If it were, it wouldn’t work at all.  We do attempt to follow conventions that are constantly codified into laws.  You went outlaw, cowboy.  And even though you had been robbed, pursuing a personal vendetta harms us all since it undermines the rules we are trying to create for a peaceful and productive Internet.  Sorry to hurt your feelings, but you went from Wiki to wicked.
Geek Ethicist

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Despite the complexity of the digital world, moral distress is as real online as off.  The thorniest ethical problems are not whether robots have rights or web designers should design websites for mercenaries and pornographers, the thorniest ethical conflicts are conflicts of interest — figuring out your constituency and how far to promote their interests.

Send your ethical dilemmas to  I’ll give you my ethical analysis and you may find it helpful…or not.

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2 thoughts on “Geek Ethicist

  1. Broken Lamps and Stuff says:

    Dear Geek Ethicist,

    I have a dilemma at my 13 year old son’s school. My son has been called on the carpet recently for some inappropriate behavior. Only one of the incidents actually happen and was proven to happen. One incident involved another 13 year old boy drawing a phallic symbol picture and saying my son drew it. The picture got passed around and the passing around part is convoluted as to who really passed it around. The other boy got a day of in-school suspension. This other boy then tried to get my son busted by saying he was humping chairs and stood behind a girl and made a humping motion. Could not be proved. Merely conjecture and hearsay. The incident my son admitted to was making that “V” thing with his fingers in front of his mouth. He learned this at school and didn’t really know what it meant in the first place.
    My dilemma is the way the vice principal has handled the situation. The picture was discussed with me when the VP ambushed me in my car when I was dropping all three of my sons off at school one morning. He first said phallic symbol but I guess he underestimated my 47 year old intelligence and knowledge by clarifying using the word penis. He did this right in front of my other two sons who are 10 and 8 years old. I was in a hurry to drop them off and get to MY campus and didn’t really have time to get into all that at that time. We were also blocking traffic.
    The other disturbing incident was a phone call on Friday between the VP and me about the “V” gesture. He used the term the “V” but then had to clarify THAT by saying cunnilingus. I was appalled. I am no prude but I thought that was completely inappropriate and I felt embarrassed and somewhat demeaned if that make sense.
    Lastly, this VP conducted an inquisition about my son at the school. He interviewed the 2 boys my son has problems with but also interrogated 10 other children in his grade and asked them if my son was doing anything “nasty” or “gross”. He said all of these students denied my son was doing anything.
    I feel this was inappropriate as well, as these students had not approached the VP first with any allegations or complaints. They had no idea what he was talking about.
    This VP just started at my son’s school at the beginning of this school year. I feel he may be trying to establish his role and authority there and is using my son as a scapegoat to accomplish this. The other boy mainly involved in all this crap is the class trouble maker and has ongoing discipline issues at this school for years.
    He comes from one of these families in my neighborhood that have addiction problems, etc. My son is making high honor role for the past semester and has only had minor “boys will be boys” incidents since he has been there since PreK. He is now in 7th grade.
    The principal that left and was replaced by a new principal and this new VP was a lovely, classy woman who I had a good relationship with. She knew me well and my family. I never had any problems of this kind before this year.
    So, to wrap this up, I feel this situation has been steadily deteriorating since the start of the school year and am starting the process to Cyberschool my son. It is breaking my heart in a way because after all these years at his current school, it has come to this and he will miss his 8th grade graduation next year, etc.
    My main question is, should I file a complaint with the school district about this VP or let it go? This man has buddied up to me since the beginning of the school year and except for these creepy moments the past week has not disrespected me. I was volunteering two days a week working with the 1st grade through 4th grade students and that was going really well. I had to stop due to my full class load returning to college. I’m also an artist and the VP, principal, and guidance counselor want me to paint a large anti-bullying mural for them at the school. They keep asking me if I’m still going to do this. (At this point the answer is HELL NO.)
    I don’t want to rock the boat before I get my son’s cyberschool set up as the principal has to sign up on that and I also don’t want to open up a can of worms or start a war. The flip side to that is if this guy is being inappropriate with me who doesn’t take any crap, what could he be doing to other mothers who may be more vulnerable to me. I know he was making personal visits to one’s house. Her son is new and he’s one of the two boys that have ongoing issues with MY son.
    I’m just looking for another viewpoint and not asking you to solve this for me.

    What do you think?


    Broken Lamps and stuff

    thank you.
    I feel if I rock the