MOO-cows Mailing List Archive


The concept of "wizardly ethics"

I have been in a recent argument with Karl Boyken (cc'd, because I
don't know if he's on this list) about the concept of wizardly ethics.
Many months ago, Karl attempted to force the LambdaMOO wizards to
draft a "code of conduct" document.  (Me, I think that if someone
wants some work done, they ought to at least volunteer to do it, and I
was rather adamant on this point.)  Months later (after allowing his
character to be reaped, and claiming that it was in part due to my
refusal to draft this document---thanks for the guilt trip), he
forwarded me a copy of "System Administrators' Guild Code of Ethical
Conduct", below.  I don't want to argue in private, since many of his
arguments have to do with the fact that it's a community issue (though
I disagree), so there's not a whole lot of point to it.  So I'm
putting his money where his mouth is by bringing it to moo-cows.
Fortunately nothing in the code of conduct below says I have to be
*nice*.  I'm acting in a belligerent manner by posting this message
here and getting my opinion in first, and I'm doing it intentionally,
because he pissed me off by sending mail to me on LambdaMOO as a
guest.  I thought his action was inappropriate, and I think my action
here is inappropriate.  But I'm doing it anyway, so there.

My problem with a "wizardly code of conduct" is that Karl wants it to
be global, like the hippocratic oath.  I don't think this makes sense.
The only thing that MOO admins have in common is that they know how to
use the commands "ftp" and "make".  

There's nothing to equate me with a college freshman whose sole goal
in life is to hit on girls electronically.  This hypothetical freshman
sets up a MOO and advertises it on the web.  He gets users and starts
reading their mail.  Where is my involvement with that?  Karl seems to
think I should have a *responsibility* to take this fellow to task, to
censure him for violation of the Wizardly Code of Conduct.

Frankly, I say "no."  If you come to my MOO, I will accord you a
certain respect.  I have a fairly high standard for such things, and I
would hope that people would believe me when I say so, and would act
accordingly while on my MOO (e.g., feel comfortable storing private
messages without fear of their being compromised.)  I do not see why
my refusal to be a police force for the entire internet, searching out
unethical MOO wizards and censuring them, should be a reason that you
should not feel comfortable on *my* moo.  Certainly you should be wary
on the hypothetical person above's moo.  But what has that to do with
[My comments in brackets.]

                Proposed Code of Ethical Conduct for Wizards

As a wizard, I will be guided by the following principles:

  1. Fair Treatment

     I will treat everyone fairly.  I will not discriminate against anyone on
     grounds such as age, disability, gender, sexual orientation, religion,
     race, or national origin.

[I do this.  It's hard not to, on a MOO, since these factors are not
 visible.  I do discriminate on the basis of behavior, stupidity, and

  2. Privacy

     I will access private information on computer systems only when it is
     necessary in the course of my duties.  I will maintain the
     confidentiality of any information to which I may have access.  I
     acknowledge statutory laws governing data privacy.

[I certainly adhere to this.  Your mail is sacred.]

  3. Communication

     I will keep users informed about computing matters that may affect them,
     such as conditions of acceptable use, sharing of common resources,
     maintenance of security, occurrence of system monitoring, and any
     relevant legal obligations.

[LambdaMOO has its various policies spelled out.]

  4. System Integrity

     I will strive to ensure the integrity of the systems for which I have
     responsibility, using all appropriate means, such as regularly
     maintaining software and hardware; analysing levels of system
     performance and activity; and, as far as possible, preventing
     unauthorised use or access.

[I do my damnedest on this one.  We're up about 166 hours a week, and
 we spend an awful lot of time trying to fight lag.]

  5. Cooperation

     I will cooperate with and support my fellow computing professionals.  I
     acknowledge the community responsibility that is fundamental to the
     integrity of local, national, and international network resources.

[Who are my "fellow computing professionals"?  I cooperate with those
 that cooperation is reasonable.]

[But as above, I do *not* acknowledge community responsibility.]

  6. Honesty

     I will be honest about my competence and will seek help when necessary.
     When my professional advice is sought, I will be impartial.  I will
     avoid conflicts of interest; if they do arise I will declare them.

[I'll let you all judge for yourself whether I'm competent.  Frankly,
 I think I'm quite good.]

  7. Education

     I will continue to update and enhance my technical knowledge and
     management skills by training, study, and the sharing of information
     and experiences with my fellow professionals.

[Well, this is a little tough---there aren't any classes in moo code.
 I do share my knowledge, but as I have niether infinite time nor
 infinite patience, I must share it sparingly.  I write documentation
 though, which probably counts.]

  8. Social Responsibility

     I will continue to enlarge my understanding of the social and legal
     issues that arise in computing environments, and I will communicate
     that understanding to others when appropriate.  I will strive to ensure
     that policies and laws about computer systems are consistent with my
     ethical principles.

[I called my representatives and whined about the CDA.  But I don't
 think this is necessarily relevant.]

  9. Workplace Quality

     I will strive to achieve and maintain a safe, healthy, productive
     workplace for all users.

[This is forbidden to me as a LambdaMOO wizard---I would have to
 violate LTAND (lambdamoo takes a new direction) and toad some people
 in order to assure such a situation.  Even then it would be
 hard---since a lot of people MOO for recreation, and many of those
 MOO when they ought to be studying/working, it can be considered
 unhealthful for them to even *be* on the MOO---but I'm not going to
 shut it down just because someone is addicted.  Basically this point
 is just inappropriate for MOOs.]

OK, you've heard me, I've basically agreed to his proposed code of
conduct except for the part where I go beat up on the random freshman.
Does that make it any different?  No.  You still either trust me or
you don't.  Mr. Freshman might very well have typed "Yes", had the
"make" script prompted him with "Do you agree to the above", just to
get his moo running so he could get his mail spying activities
started.  It still all comes down to "who do you trust."  If you don't
trust an admin, don't keep private data there, and don't use the same
password there as you do on other systems.

      Judy Anderson yclept yduJ          'yduJ' rhymes with 'fudge' (personal mail) (work-related)
	Join the League for Programming Freedom,


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