Cheating On Online Surveys

OK this really bothers me. Students at a number of top tech colleges worked very effectively at  ballot stuffing for a Victoria’s Secret contest. Oh I am sure that to most people it looks like a lot of harmless fun. To others it screams out that is was all Victoria’s Secret’s fault because they didn’t properly secure the site/process. I think that is called blaming the victim.

But to me it screams that we have too much acceptance of dishonestly. They shouldn’t have to lock down the site because people should not be trying to game the system in this fashion.

Time and again while I was teaching I heard from students that if I didn’t want people to vandalize the school computers that it was my job to make it harder for them to do so. Leaving any opening, no matter how small, was taken as permission by these individuals. “Does that extend to houses?” I once asked. “Yes” was the reply. Oh but not their house. If someone broke into their house there would  be serious consequences. But if they were found in someone else’s house there should not be a penalty because, after all, there wasn’t enough of a barrier  to keep them out so it would the home owner’s fault.

But coming back to the computer side of things. In the very early days of computers we didn’t have much in the way of security beyond physical security. If you were allowed in the room you could do what you wanted. But people could usually be trusted. We were all in it to help each other, to cooperate, and to stay out of other people’s business. That didn’t last long though.

So now we have online polls for all sorts of things and people are taking advantage of less than ideal security to cheat. Are laws broken/ Often, probably not. To many people if it isn’t illegal it is permissible and ethical. I would say that is not the case and gaming these systems is unethical.

“But no one is hurt.” Not true. People who honestly and ethically work hard within the spirit of the competition wind up having no chance. Their hard work goes in vain – often without them knowing they are doomed to be frustrated. The people who run the competition are hurt. In this case the servers actually crashed under the load. That cost time and money to correct. Plus the benefits the company hoped to get from the event are diminished. Even the publicity they are getting is not what they want.

I would argue that the perpetrators are ultimately hurt as well. They wind up being hailed as heroes and stars and “great hackers” while doing something of dubious ethics. Being rewarded for unethical behavior is not good for ones long term prospects of growing more ethical.

We really need ethical people in the software industry. Really. So when things like this happens I find it very depressing.

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