In this paper we explore an issue that is different from whether developers are responsible for the direct impact of the software they write. We examine, instead, in what ways, and to what degree, developers are responsible for the way their software is used “downstream.” We review some key scholarship analyzing responsibility in computing ethics, including some recent work by Floridi. We use an adaptation of a mechanism developed by Floridi to argue that there are features of software that can be used as guides to better distinguish situations where a software developer might share in responsibility for the software’s downstream use from those in which the software developer likely does not share in that responsibility. We identify five such features and argue how they are useful in the model of responsibility that we develop. The features are: closeness to the hardware, risk, sensitivity of data, degree of control over or knowledge of the future population of users, and the nature of the software (general vs. special purpose).
Wolf, M. J., Miller, K. W., & Grodzinsky, F. S. (2019) On the responsibility for uses of downstream software. Presented at Computer Ethics - Philosophical Enquiry (CEPE) Proceedings. Norfolk, VA. DOI: 10.25884/7576-wd27