Friday, October 22, 2010

Bark and business ethics

click photo to enlarge
"Business ethics" sometimes sounds like an oxymoron. Yesterday's post shows one example of how, in the pursuit of profit, business can ignore good manners. And, unfortunately, further examples large and small are not difficult to find. Today I came across another instance. It's not one of the big, basic, glaring examples, such as believing that pricing according to what the market will pay is "right" by definition, and that further ethical consideration of what to charge is therefore unneccessary. No, it's another small detail that is representative of the deep malaise that underpins so-called business ethics.

Today my computer invited me to update a piece of software that is widely used by Windows. I clicked the necessary box to set the process in motion and was presented with a further page requiring me to click another box in order to proceed. However, in the middle of that page was a block of text, and within that writing was the invitation to add a Yahoo toolbar to my browser. Nothing wrong with that you might think: it's free and it might give the user increased functionality. But there was something wrong, something that I call unethical, and it was this. The box indicating my desire to download this toolbar was ready ticked. In other words, if I'd simply clicked the "continue" box for the piece of software I was updating I'd have had this toolbar installed by default, whether I wanted it or not. Somewher behind this, I imagine, there must be deal that benefits the software company: payments perhaps, for accepting the "piggy-backing" of the Yahoo toolbar. Why is it unethical? Because the box is already ticked and the probable intention is that the user doesn't notice this and downloads the toolbar unwittingly. Like the "witheld" phone number, these "pre-populated" boxes are becoming very common. It's very likely that the big companies that boast about their ethical, environmental and other policies are the ones who are most guilty of this unethical practice.

I was pondering this as I took an afternoon stroll with my wife during which I took this photograph of silver birch bark. I have a fondness for the bark of this particular tree, and I was pleased to find this lovely section on the trunk of one that was growing in a garden next to the footpath. The soft colours, folds, unfurling strips of paper-thin covering, and the detailed horizontal markings all invited my camera.

Another examples of my silver birch bark photographs can be seen here.

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Lumix LX3
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 5.1mm (24mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f2.8
Shutter Speed: 1/160
ISO: 80
Exposure Compensation: 0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On