A Forbes article published a few years ago noted that we are entering an age of “involuntary transparency.” Things that used to be secret within a firm are no longer secret. WikiLeaks began in 2006, and was quickly joined by TradeLeaks, Anonymous, and many similar organizations. Cybersecurity attacks from individuals and countries threaten our privacy and safety. On the human relations side, technology has advanced so that any employee with a USB drive can walk off with megabytes of internal firm records, emails, and memos.
How do we manage and lead in this world?
At UT Arlington’s College of Business, we recognize that transparency in business—voluntary or involuntary—is pivotal. It can save or destroy an organization. Firms must protect their intellectual property, their client information, and their product development data. Likewise, consumers must protect themselves against malevolent interests. However, how to accomplish these objectives is a topic that requires research and investment.
The research of two of our faculty members is aimed at helping individuals and firms to protect themselves against cyberattacks. Dr. Jingguo Wang’s research on phishing (attempting to acquire sensitive information such as usernames, passwords, and credit card details by masquerading as a trustworthy entity in an electronic communication) has the potential to increase our understanding of what makes a firm or individual more or less secure in this world of involuntary transparency. Dr. M.K. Raja’s research focuses on deterring cyber-crime and the forensic tools of information security. This work similarly identifies strategies that can reduce phishing attempts, but also focuses on identifying and catching the criminals involved.
The future world of involuntary transparency requires firms to promote and adhere to the highest ethical standards. Instilling strong ethical standards in our students is a fundamental priority at the College of Business. In addition to specialized ethics courses, ethics concepts and issues are addressed broadly in our degree programs. Dr. Larry Chonko, the Thomas McMahon Professor in Business Ethics, establishes ethics initiatives in the college. “One of the realities of organizational life is the persistent reemergence of many of the same ethical issues,” he says, “this program plants the seeds of ethical decision making, allows them to take root and to flourish as our students enter the professional world.” The College’s Goolsby Leadership Academy provides specialized education to a select group of high-potential junior and senior students with a focus on leadership and ethics.
Faculty and PhD students in the College of Business study ethical attitudes of the current and future business world. Dr. Chonko, along with Associate Professor Doug Grisaffe, and PhD student Rebecca VanMeter recently published an article that explores how business ethics are changing, identifies the ethical ideologies of Generation Y, and analyzes the implications of those ideologies for the workplace of the future.
Beyond cybersecurity and ethics, involuntary transparency has important implications for the decision that firms make between patenting and trying to keep a trade secret. Dr. Roger Meiners, the Goolsby-E.M. Rosenthal Chair in Economics, analyzes key benefits and shortcomings of patents and trade secrets in his textbook The Legal Environment of Business. “Patents provide strong protection during its lifetime,” Dr. Meiners says. “However, rapid changes in technology may limit the usefulness of patents. Many organizations prefer to protect themselves by requiring commitments of confidentiality from its employees.” In the future of business, this confidentiality may be more difficult to achieve.
Dr. Meiners further explains that theft of intellectual property is a growing problem. “Firms suffer such losses by hacking as well as through bribery,” he says. “There has been a rise in the number of cases involving paid theft of proprietary information by employees. Judgments against firms, mostly foreign, for theft have run into the hundreds of millions. Patents are easy to steal because they are public information–the theft is by incorporating the use of the technology without a license from the owner. Recently Apple won a billion dollar judgment against Samsung for such theft, although the award is likely to be reduced on appeal.”
Technology is changing the rules of business. It has greatly increased availability of information and spurred new dangers to information security. Looking into the future of business, these issues will be pivotal to any organizations’ success.
What do you think? Do you agree? Disagree? Comment and make your thoughts known! In terms of information transparency, security, and ethical conduct, what do you see for the future of business?
RELATED FACULTY ARTICLES
Dr. Wang’s recent articles: “Why do People get Phished? Testing Individual Differences in Phishing Susceptibility Within an Integrated, Information Processing Model” and “Phishing Susceptibility: An Investigation into the Processing of a Targeted Spear Phishing Email”
Dr. Raja’s recent papers: “Digital Certificate Management: Optimal Pricing and CRL Releasing Strategies” and “Protection Motivation Theory: A Phishing Expedition”
Dr. Chonko, Grisaffe and Ms. VanMeter’s paper: “Generation Y’s Ethical Ideology and Its Potential Workplace Implications”
“An Interview With WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange.” by Andy Greegberg. Forbes. November 2010.
“Intellectual property: Can you keep a secret?” The Economist. March 16, 2013.
“Psst…This Is What Your Co-Worker Is Paid.” by Rachel Emma Silverman. The Wall Street Journal. January 29, 2013.