Although ethics played a certain role in recent years’ Internet governance discussions, the subject has never gained substantive attention. A recently published UNESCO study supports this observation. Ethical issues are mentioned mostly in the context of other topics, and seldom with detailed discussion of their many facets. More effort should be invested in the practical realization of ethical principles in Internet governance frameworks.

Because of the growing importance of online social networks and their wide-ranging economic, social and cultural impacts, public focus should increasingly concentrate on the ethical aspects of Twitter, Facebook, Google and others. Demanding immediate attention are the online social networks’ common practice of monetizing customers’ personal information for advertising purposes and their quasi-governmental functions.

Ethics takes the form of behavioural directives stemming from values such as justice and equity, care and compassion, and responsibility. These values need not only formal attention in documents such as international guidelines and frameworks, but also concrete application in daily online life. Ongoing discussions about the design and shape of the information society provide a suitable forum to enable a deeper understanding of ethical considerations.

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The Global Commission on Internet Governance was established in January 2014 to articulate and advance a strategic vision for the future of Internet governance. The two-year project conducted and supported independent research on internet-related dimensions of global public policy, culminating in an official commission report that articulates concrete policy recommendations for the future of Internet governance.
  • Rolf H. Weber is ordinary professor for civil, commercial and European law at the University of Zurich, Switzerland, and a visiting professor at the University of Hong Kong in China.