Are we allowed to ask things like "Is it okay to do [this] without informing users of this behavior?"? I'm not referring to anything regarding the legality of a practice, but whether its just acceptable in terms of business or competition.

If we are, would a question like this need to be CW? I understand ethics vary from person to person, but it'd still be possible for a single answer to resolve the issue.

  • Also, that was just an example. I have absolutely no intention of putting undocumented behavior in any of my applications.
    – Brandon
    Commented Aug 29, 2009 at 3:51

4 Answers 4


Whilst the answers so far posted have been negative and I tend to agree if the question relates, as stated in the body, to whether its just acceptable in terms of business or competition I think there is a class of question where it should be acceptable when it relates more directly to the title: Are we allowed to ask questions about programming ethics on SO?

Some programming professionals subscribe to or are bound by at least one code of ethics or code of practice.

As examples of those applying to computing specifically:

ACM Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct

IEEE/ACM Software Engineering Code of Ethics and Professional Practice

UK BCS Code of Conduct and Code of Good Practice

Additionally, many will be covered by ethical as well as legal requirements of their industry.

These remove much of the subjectivity from the discussion (and if not then we need to be reviewing these codes of ethics and conduct in order to improve them). It may still be argumentative but aren't these discussions and even arguments we should be having as professional programmers? It is at least as important as arguments and discussions over what is the best/right/approved/current/modal way to code a solution or furnish a workspace.

  • This was actually more of what I meant when I originally asked this question. I just used horrible phrasing that kind of got it sidetracked. Sorry I didn't notice this answer until today.
    – Brandon
    Commented Oct 21, 2009 at 6:20
  • 2
    Disagree: I think bounding the questions within these codes of ethics makes them good candidates for the programmers.stackexchange site, but until you are asking about also applying them to a specific snippet of code they are still a poor fit for Stack Overflow proper. Commented Oct 18, 2011 at 20:43
  • @Joel - you may well be right ... the alternative site did not exist when I wrote the answer :-)
    – mas
    Commented Oct 19, 2011 at 10:30
  • I would say that most programmers in the UK are not bound by any of these "code of ethics", as I know very few programmers that consider the BCS to be worth joining. Commented Oct 19, 2011 at 14:25
  • 1
    The claim that "Most programming professionals subscribe to or are bound by at least one code of ethics or code of practice" is fanciful. I'd be very surprised if even 10% of professional programmers are more than vaguely aware of these organisations, let alone belonging to them or subscribing to their codes. The ACM claims to be the largest such organization in the world, yet has less than 100,000 members. And I'd bet at least half of thoese members are academics. Commented Oct 19, 2011 at 15:35

Here in the futuristic future that is October 2011, it may be accepable to ask such questions on Programmers SE (using the neural interface in your flying car). The key would be to determine whether you have a question that is really about programmer ethics, or merely a general ethics question that you happened to think of while programming.

  • 1
    They're even more likely to be a good on-topic fit for programmers.SE if asked in light of the specific ethical codes linked in @mas answer. Commented Oct 18, 2011 at 21:03
  • Woah! I'm in the future right now! Darn ... back to the present again ... Commented Oct 19, 2011 at 13:41
  • Bonus points if it's a question about the ethics of programming on a boat.
    – adamjford
    Commented Oct 19, 2011 at 14:56

Ethical questions are inherently subjective and frequently argumentative... Therefore, they are a poor choice for SO.

Of course, if you ask how to accomplish something unethical, you may well get an answer explaining why you shouldn't do it at all... At least, I hope you would.


Business practice is not necessarily programming related. That sort of question would be better suited on Joel's Business of Software forum.


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