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Where are the ethics?

I whine a little about the lack of ethics in a large percentage of the questions I get.

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Some days I could just cry.

I get a LOT of questions submitted to Ask Leo either in the form of comments on specific articles, or as questions submitted using the ask-a-question form. Many more questions every day than I could ever hope to answer. But I do read them all.

And reading them all is getting really depressing.

I estimate that somewhere between a quarter and a half of all questions asked are attempts to deceive, steal, hack or hide from the repercussions of questionable activity.

Not a day goes by that I don’t get a ton of “please recover my password” requests. Some may be legit I suppose, but many are blatant or poorly-disguised attempts to get me to supply a password into someone else’s account.

Not a day goes by that I don’t get stories of accounts actually being hacked, and vicious email or IM’s being sent to everyone in the hacked account’s address book.

Not a day goes by that I don’t get a request from someone attempting to recover an instant messaging conversation. Sometimes it’s their own, but more often than not they’re quite up front about wanting to hack into a girlfriend’s, boyfriend’s or spouse’s IM history because they suspect that they’re being cheated on.

I’ve spoken about IP tracing before as well. Another all-to-frequent request is a variation of “can I track down this person by their IP address”, or its counterpart, “can I be traced by my IP address”. In either case, you know there’s something going on.

And the one that still causes my jaw to drop every time I get it is the repeated request for software activation codes. Apparently some folks think that activating software illegally is there for the asking, and I’ll dole it out.

Some are blatant, some are poorly veiled attempts to deceive me, and others look very, very legitimate. Some are adults but many are kids with more time than honesty.

But so many are just so … wrong. And no, I don’t answer them.

There are just so many people trying to do so much that’s unethical, I sometimes despair for internet, and even humanity, for what it all represents.

Some days I could just cry.

I’d love to hear what you think. Visit, and enter 9825 in the go to article number box. Leave a comment, I still read them all.

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29 comments on “Where are the ethics?”

  1. Parents are definitely to blame, but I also blame the schools, where everyone has to feel “self esteem” about everything — no one can be a “winner” because that means someone is a “loser”. Yeah, well, that’s the way life works. If “everyone is a winner” (which creates artificial self-esteem where it’s not warranted), you quickly develop an attitude that nothing one does is wrong — there simply is no “right and wrong” left in the world. In their minds, at least. What a shock when they find out that their childhood-developed fantasies don’t relate to the real world.

  2. Leo,
    I know what you are feeling. It makes one understand the Bible story about Sodom and Gomorrah. I grew up in a small community in a gentler time when people looked out for each other and honesty was expected. Since I’ve moved to the ‘big’ city I’ve lost so much respect for the human race that some days are too depressing to remember. I hope you continue what you are doing here. I have learned so much from you in the last few weeks since I found this site that it would be a major loss to me if you shut down. You do a tremendous job explaining things in a way an amature computer geek like me can understand and your site is one I make sure I visit each day if I can. Just know you are appreciated by many even if others are trying to take advantage of your knowledge. Thanks again for sharing you what you know.

  3. Honesty is a 2-way street. Many people (myself included) are not computer savvy and we rely on information given to us by others. For example, suppose a person buys a computer sight unseen off the internet based upon the seller’s ad and it turns out the operating system was pirated. Just because the new owner asks questions and tries to fix a real problem doesn’t mean the new owner is unethical. Au contrare, mon ami… the person asking the questions and trying to salvage a bad situation is actually the one who is trying to right an egregious wrong. I’m not condoning it, but I can certainly understand it if a person who has been the recipient of unauthorized intercourse says, “I’ve been *blanked* so I don’t care who I *blank* in return.” It all boils down to revenge (getting even with the whole world for getting *blanked* in the first place) and temptation (possibly getting something for nothing instead of having to pay big bucks – for example – for a new and legal operating system.) Revenge and temptation go all the way back to the Garden of Eden. I don’t think they will disappear any time soon.

  4. Hi Leo. I can definitely sympathize with you, however, I think that this has been going on since the Internet became accessible to geeks in the general population. Usenet, for example, isn’t dead, but why else would you use it than for unethical purposes? There’s so much illegal activity going on in the IRC rooms that the application/protocol has become a joke.

    It is unfortunate to be sure, but porn and illegal activity have always driven technology, and it’s no different today (think audio, images, and streaming video on the BB’s in the 80’s and 90’s).

    Those of us with ethics need to be strong and set an example for others and speak out when it can help.

    Tim W.

  5. Hi Leo, love your website and newsletter. What is wrong with people. I get the same questions, can I see what someone else is doing on there computer? what is there password?, I just don’t get it.

    Thanks for all your efforts and info.

  6. Ah! You are troubled by the the darkest of humanity, those that wish to live behind mask. You meet them in all walks of life. often your friends.
    I have found indeed most quite charming, adept, and all without a moral compass.
    All you can do is live your life, with a honesty that perculates down through all of your activities. They will learn sooner, hopefully than later, “what goes around comes around”.

  7. Funny how we can read the bible that there were two trees in the Garden, and not realize that the one that brought death to the spirit was the tree of the knowledge of GOOD, and evil.. Goodness was on that same tree with evil. It is so easy to see the *evil* in human nature, but does one realize that those doing *good* have the same sentence upon themselves?

    Even the goodness of man ties him to death and separation from God.

    Thereby the message of Christ. One must be born again! This time, born from above, rather than below.


  8. If i were you Leo, i would not give it a second thought. Not only are people dishonest and without human ethics on the internet, as you can see in the world around you in which we live, unethical dealings go on as high as the government and trickle all the way down to common ordinary folk. It’s not going to stop or even slow down! In fact, the pace of which crooked dealings, backstabbings and even murder continue to be a constant problem in our everyday life. Know why? Cause humanity does not care anymore! They are insensative to the brutality that exist and the mentality is if it is in someone elses family, then its not mine and im not going to worry about it. At every level, it all harms each of us in someway. There is no right or wrong answer Leo! Just continue doing what you do for you have helped me out in some very good ways lately and i love receiving the news letters and enjoy them all! Keep up the good work and just overlook the mud till you find the diamond. Peace.

  9. Hang in there! we’re all confronted by the amoral in our midst. How we respond determines who we are. No doubt you know who you are. That makes me,and, I’m sure, countless others who find things in their E-mail sent by someone with a compass, happy! :-))


  10. Poor Leo! I know that feeling. I live in a small latin american country and it is so depressing to see the lack of honesty and integrity from the richest to the poorest people. Legal copies of CDs are not even available for sale here. Everyone is out to cheat someone else in any way they can, sometimes even when they don’t benefit personally. I could just cry sometimes. Few people have internet access at home, but just wait until they do!

    To the person who said “why else would you use USENET except for porn?”…That’s a little cynical. I collect recipes–cooking RECIPES for heaven’s sake!–and many of them came from the old USENET.

    Leo, don’t forget that there are a zillion of us out here who only use the internet for communication and education and we love your website.

  11. Leo my Man, your are very much a help to us newbies out here in computer land that have a thirst to learn! Sadly, there are going to be those types of people in EVERY walk of life and I suppose with computers/internet its just the nature of the beast. My girlfriend just had her computer stolen from her house. So all in all, just keep up the good work. VERY much appreciated and there are good people out there that you have no idea how you have touched them in a positive way! Glad you brought up this subject though. So keep on truckin; Leo! Thanks!!

  12. *passing around box of Kleenex for all of us to share*

    When certain people are under duress, they may behave in a way in which they ordinarily would not. It could be a genuine crisis (“where did my email go?”) or a manufactured one in which vengeance in the key (“my cheating, lousy ex hasn’t sent child support, so I want to find dirt on him”). My guess would be while there are some who are trying to take advantage of your good, sharing nature, while presuming you have DUMB in the middle of your forehead, just as many are at the end of their ropes and may regret having asked the question moments after hitting SEND. In these cases, it may not be so much a breach of ethics but a breach of common sense, perhaps?

    As we all know, sadly, crimes of opportunity take place in the real and cyberworlds, and it’s a crying shame indeed. Leo and all, I firmly believe most people are good, most people are honest. However, that doesn’t mean that I leave my doors unlocked or that I don’t look through the peephole before opening them up.

    You’re doing the same thing here, simply exercising the proper caution one needs to take.

    Thank you for all you do for those of us who simply want to understand why computers do whatever it is they do.

  13. Ethics are, as they have alway been, a personal thing. Obviously a high level of ethics makes everything better, but equally obviously, some people just don’t care. They just want what they can get with nbo regard as to how. Take care of your own ethics, or better, morality, and let your example shine forth. You can do no more, but you can do less. If others choose to do less, it will come home in time. Just don’t let them vicimize you in the meantime. They will do so if you let them. Examples abound. You can only control you, and many don’t even do that.

  14. Yes, the lack of ethics/common sense in people today is absolutely astounding. I have heard people say and seen internet posts where people seem to believe that it is their right to get any music they want for free, anything else as well, I guess.
    What is even more alarming is that these same people are not intelligent enough to know that these things are illegal and legitimate folks are not going to help them in their illegal activities.
    I might also say that these law breakers are lazy, too, because the answers to these and many other questions are just a Google search away.

    Maybe it is good that they are lazy, eh?

  15. I get my MP3’s from Amazon.COM and my software from Download.COM, folks. All nice and legal.

    But while I absolutely agree that Internet ethics are down the tubes, I cannot quite say “Amen” to the implied claim that this signals anything particularly sinister for the human race. The simple fact is, the human race is already sinister, folks!

    All these Internet doings are trivial. To put things into perspective, one need only to go and “Google” the following names: Jessica Lunsford, Amber Hagerman, Adam Walsh, Paul Benda, Billy Gaffney.

    I can furnish other examples if you want them. Believe me, you don’t want me to.

    The lack of ethics on the Internet is only the very tip of the depravity iceburg which is Humankind. Why, in God’s name, would you want to fuss with such things, when there are so many others of which one might say homo homini lupus?!?

  16. Leo, Are you kidding? I mean really…. I get emails all the time about some bozo posing as a banker or lawyer and saying I can pose as a relative of the deceased and collect several million dollars. Or some other bozo acting like they’re the Bank of America and they want me to click a link and provide my personal and banking information. When I bought my first computer, before I started building what I wanted, I started watching “TechTV”, realizing that information and knowledge would be valuable. They helped a lot. And over the years, I’ve subscribed to a number of newsletters and continue to do so. Education is the key. And you help people to know what to look for and what to watch out for. When to click, when not to click, and when to just back out of your browser without clicking anything. So some of the bozos who write in and ask you how to break a password, or whatever…serve to show you one thing…there are those kind, they exist, but you educate the other kind. You help to keep them out of trouble. Kindness and generosity should never be a burden and lead to an emotional state other than the satisfaction of knowing your work and contributions lead to the enrichment of others….You deserve a Latte

  17. But of course there are people who make life miserable! It’s their born purpose. We don’t live in a peaceful perfect world. Make yourself known worldwide as a ‘computer oracle’ and you should expect things like this to happen. It’s part of the job you took. Ethics may have gone down the toilet but folks like you, Leo, are beacons of hope and wisdom in the internet. That’s why beer was invented to relax oneself after a hard day’s work..

  18. Dear Leo, Yes ethics seem to be going down the tube.But in reality they are not.You are only one of millions that believe in right & wrong.Sometimes it’s difficult not to break ones ethics.I live in Thailand.I tried to get in touch with a Microsoft company to buy a legal Windows program.Was uinable to locate one.Tried the Internet & sent them a request to purchase a Windows program.No answer.People do try to be honest.I really think if the entertainment Industry was not so greedy more people would purchase legal CD’s & Movies & not copies.Most of us out here are not rich & our money is hard to come by.I no. No excuse. Any thanks for all of your help in solving so many of my computer problems.

  19. Your “I could just cry!” really struck a chord with me. Life would be so much nicer if we could trust everyone. As we were growing up, that was the actual case for many of us — because our parents effectively screened the people we came into contact with and associated with.

    But, as we age we discover that there is an element of our race that has sociopathic tendencies; i.e. — they think only of themselves, and not of others. The sociopathic are about 5 percent of our society; but they sure appear to be more widespread than that. This is because a disproportionate percentage of our public figures are part of this group. Sociopaths gravitate to positions of influence and power. At times it seems like society has gone to hell, and everybody but us has abandoned morality. But it simply isn’t the case; it just seems that way.

    I am not implying that a majority of public figures are dishonest. Far from it. Many are motivated by a great desire to be of service — to help others. I am claiming, however, that amongst public figures one will find about 20 percent who are sociopathic; that is, four times more than the run-of-the-mill population. So … our good leaders are especially plagued by this disproportionate level of sociopathic behavior. And these sociopaths are the reason many people label all public figures as scoundrels! What a price the good ones pay for their attempts to help us!

    But you are right to cry! All humanity should be crying for a “fix” that would cause man’s inhumanity to man to cease. Some place their hope in religion. Others in evolution. Others in discovering the culprit gene. And still others in society.

    The great danger is that a society desperate for a more moral society will actually propigate even greater inhumanity in trying to weed out the “weeds” of society. Morally motivated purges are a strong part of mankind’s history.

    So…just continue to be your good, moral self. Helping others is one of the highest forms of morality. And know that there are 19 out of 20 others out there who feel just as you do. Many of us could just cry too!

  20. Some believe that there are basic instinct genes for some morality aspects. However, civilization largely depends upon social interaction to communicate the behavior norms which permit society to work. Morals and manners, for better or for worse, are learned from our parents and peers.

  21. Well, looking for that quote by P.T. Barnum the great man of the P.T. Barnum circus on wikipedia
    They say that he NEVER said “A fool is born everyminute…” .In Hebrew we have a saying : “Available fools never cease, they just change places with each other after being burnt”.
    Shades of the Madden Ponzi Scheme, steroid muscle builders in sports. I loved the comments above, but it seems that technology has widened the ability to “Fool all the people some of the time”.
    thank You Leo for your great help in weeding out the weeds from the garden.

  22. The principle at work in ethics is free will.
    The internet has given many the access,denied billions of forebears, to info and advice- as well as scamming routes.
    The free will that ‘good’ people use is balanced by the increase in ‘bad’ moves- from others less enlightened.
    It’s just Yin-Yang, Leo! -Good luck..

  23. I need to crack a web site called ask-Leo and was wondering if you could help me? I intend to steal his Latte money (although I wouldn’t drink that kind of thing).
    Leo, I for one appreciate an honest man/woman. People like you are very high on my “trusted” list. Thank you.
    I cried when Dick Nixon was exposed as a liar. Up ’til then I had always accepted that my President would not lie to me. Adulthood is a b**ch.
    I’m suspicious enough not to open that email that says I won $1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000.
    However, I am concerned that you aren’t getting enough legit q’s, so: How do I deceive, steal, hack or hide from the repercussions of questionable activity?

  24. I know exactly what you mean because I have the knowledge but do not have a degree i am considered the Hacker to everyone I know and they ask stupid things like that to me too.I was even ask why I am legally attending a college now after 20 years, so brother you are not alone.It does not even seem to matter that I am bonded for a local security firm I constantly get the ‘well can’t you get this or that for free for me’ or ‘get into this or that account’.
    I have thought if they would put as much time and energy into learning how to do what I do then they would have a better appreciation maybe but I guess that is why we know what we do SELF DISCIPLINE and MORALS.That is a good thing because the constant nagging creates stress as defined by the Marine Corp…. The overwhelming urge to choke the snot out of a soul and your brain says no while your muscle fibers slowly try to override !
    So my heart goes out to you.

  25. When we speak about Ethics, we are referring to right conduct. But whose conduct? By whose standards? Yesterday an “X-rated” movie is a “PG-Rated” movie today. Once, I was called “Sir” or “Mr”. Today I am called “Bro” or “dude”. I hear phrases such as, “Hay man, he is really ‘bad’.” But today’s interpretation is quite the opposite, believing that bad represents good and good, bad. All of these examples find us imperceptibly changing—the world’s acceptance of its behavior has no plumb bob of righteousness. The standard of excellence, the standard of what is right in the heart has always been changing. We believe what our itching ears want to hear, and if a little bit of light gets on us, we slink down into the chair for fear that it might expose the darkness of our hearts. We polish up our shoes in the hope that no one knows where we’ve been. We candy-coat our lives with lies and false pretenses and deceit we are unaware of. We nod our heads and continue reading the morning paper, sticking our forks into our plates, and wiping our faces satisfied that everything is wonderful. But little do we know that we are next to open graves, oblivious. Right conduct is only a concept, and we have lost an awareness of what responsibility and accountability are—that we are indeed our brother’s keeper who watches out for one another. We have lost sight of a standard of what is right and wrong, and turn our heads as if one never existed. And our own history that we are making each day finds us unable to mock what we have done, for we are reaping what we sow.

    What ethics? It is a word without meaning to most, choosing to veil the world mirror so that it does not have to torment over what it has done to itself. We would do well to cry, and hope that we are heard.

  26. It does seem that morals and ethics are losing ground, but the internet has made it easy for people to make comments anonymously, saying things that they would never say to a person’s face (they might get punched in the mouth; no one likes pain!) There are always people who are cons, manipulative, sleazy, criminals, drunks, addicts, abusive, jealous of your success, etc. Avoid them!

  27. With all respect to Dave, if you believe that humans have evolved over millions of years,and if after all that time man hasn’t suddenly become “good,” then surely a few more eons won’t make it so.


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