Information Transparency

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Information Transparency is an ethical concept related to the accessibility of information, particularly in the current technological era.
Data Transparency[1]

The definition of this concept is dependent on the disciplinary sphere in which the ethics of information are being discussed. Information transparency can thus be defined in two different, and conceptually opposite, ways: information visibility and information invisibility.

  • Information visibility refers to the possibility of persons (agents) accessing information, intentions or behaviors that have been willingly revealed.
  • Information invisibility refers to the mechanisms that produce and manipulate the privatization of information (i.e., information is not disclosed).

Each definition represents a specific manner in viewing an information system and further assessing its robustness and functionality.

Models of Information Transparency

Dependence vs. regulation illustrated

Information Accessible

Within the fields of information ethics, business ethics, and information management studies, information transparency typically refers to the visibility of information. Specifically, this definition deals with the ability to obtain information that has intentionally been made available for access through some form of disclosure process. Such transparency is increased via the reduction or elimination of barriers preventing information access. Disclosure also includes details of how the information has been produced, which enables those ethical principles that either depend on information or regulate it [2]

The disclosure of information is dependent on certain factors, such as the general availability of information, the conditions and regulations by which the information is accessible, and the effect of such information on the seeking agent.

Information Flow

Information Invisible

Within the fields of information technology studies and computer science, information transparency tends to describe a form of information invisibility, in which the underlying processes of a program are hidden from users. This form of transparency is increased by making user interfaces more intuitive or by distancing the user experience from the technical aspects of the program.

Dependence vs. Regulation

The relations between ethical principles and information transparency can be classified as either "dependence" or "regulation". A dependence relation exists when information is necessary to support ethical principles. A regulation relation exists when the flow of information is restricted by ethical principles.

Ethical Issues

Transparency in regards to information visibility is more important for understanding information ethics than transparency in the sense of underlying processes made invisible to the user. The degree of invisibility of a system has few ethical implications, especially when compared to the implications of selective information disclosure. As Luciano Floridi and Matteo Turilli state in their article, "The Ethics of Information Transparency," the process of transparency is not necessarily ethical in itself, rather it is a prerequisite, or “pro-ethical condition,” for either facilitating or damaging (in general, exposing) “ethical practices or principals [3]."

Other ethical issues have risen specifically when online environments force information transparency upon their users. For example, Google Plus originally enforced a "real name" policy, in which the creation of Google Plus pages using pseudonyms was prohibited. This caused a large stir created many discussions among its users and also the users of other social networking sites, mainly Facebook. Many argued that this policy was an invasion of personal privacy and even an issue of online safety, as some people may choose to remain anonymous or hidden behind a pseudonym to avoid being recognized. Eventually, the negative feedback that Google received was enough for them to part ways with their strict "real name" policy in late October 2011 [4].

Transparency as a reference to the boundaries between virtual environments and real life also have ethical consequences. When the boundary between these worlds becomes transparent, as in the case of Julian Dibbell's description of "A Rape in Cyberspace", actions committed in online environments can have consequences in real life. This is especially problematic when unethical actions are committed in virtual environments.



An example of information transparency’s enabling effect can be seen in Ford’s recall of defective Firestone tires. Ford’s public disclosure of information regarding the danger posed by the tires prevented a great deal of harm amongst the public. If Ford were to have publicly released false information stating that such defective Firestone tires were safe, this would have been a clear example of the impairing effect of information transparency.

Big Tobacco

In the United States, tobacco companies include the Surgeon General's warning in the packaging of tobacco products (information visibility). This warning informs potential consumers of the dangers associated with smoking cigarettes. If this warning was not included (information invisibility), and similarly, the tobacco companies did not release the negative information about tobacco to the public, then the tobacco consuming public would be at a greater health risk due to their lack of knowledge pertaining to the health effects of tobacco[5].

Corporate Finance

The stability of the economy often hinges on the earnings reports of large companies. The financial livelihood of a company often comes down to the reception of its performance. These reports provide insight into the company, a metric of corporate health, that investors use to make investment decisions. In 2001 Arthur Anderson, a one time leader in corporate accounting, knowingly withheld evidence that Enron misrepresented quarterly earnings, for several years[6][7].


Luciano Floridi[8]

Luciano Floridi (University of Warwick, PhD) is an influential leader in the field of computer and technology ethics. Floridi has a very object oriented approach to his philosophy. He believes a well-modeled and well-implemented philosophy negate the need for deep analysis. This approach led to the development of a new area of ethics, the philosophy of information. In his exploration of computational ethics, Floridi felt there was a broader information concept that included more than just computation. His views on information processing led to his exploration into information transparency [3].

Matteo Turilli [9]

Matteo Turilli is a doctoral student at University of Oxford whose main interests are software design, specifically as it relates to ethical requirement elicitation, formal methods and applied ethics. He co-wrote a paper with Luciano Floridi titled Ethics and Information Technology, and one of his own called Ethical Protocols Design. He focuses on offering a solution to the problem of specifying computational systems that behave in accordance with a given set of ethical principles. The solution is based on the concepts of ethical requirements and ethical protocols.

See also

External Links


  1. Progress Illinois.
  2. Turilli & Floridi, Ethics of Information Transparency (2009)
  3. 3.0 3.1 Turilli Floridi Information Transparency 2009.pdf
  4. Privacy in the age of transparency
  5. An example of an American Surgeon General's Warning c. 1985: SURGEON GENERAL'S WARNING: Smoking Causes Lung Cancer, Heart Disease, Emphysema, And May Complicate Pregnancy.
  6. Road Map for Financial Recovery: Radical Transparency Now!
  7. Information Transparency: Can you value what you cannot see?
  8. Luciano Floridi
  9. Matteo Turilli

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