Is business anti-ethical by nature? I’m reading an article today about how it’s in no one’s business interest to help protect consumers whose cell phones get stolen. Cell phone companies make more money when a customer’s phone is stolen, since the customer has to buy a new one. Furthermore, this logic applies to all cell phone companies, so even though it’s technically possible to permanently identify and deactivate a stolen cell phone, no player in the industry has the incentive to implement the technology.

Given that the technology certainly exists to disable a stolen phone, and customers spend hundreds of dollars on a phone, is it ethical for the cell phone providers not to help stop this, when (a) they could, and (b) they are the only people in the system who can?

This is a case where business interests and consumer interests clearly diverge. It’s a rather extreme version of Frito-Lay designing Doritos to give a rapidly-vanishing burst of flavor that psychologically hooks eaters into eating another chip. They know it’s unhealthy for people to stuff themselves on refined carbs, but they create a product designed to encourage exactly that. The cell phone companies, by not implementing theft protection, are encouraging cell phones to become the high-cost, high-tech equivalent of Doritos.

(How’s that for a tortured metaphor?)

I’m of mixed minds on this one. On one hand, I don’t know that it’s fair to force the phone companies to implement theft-protection on their phones, even thought it would stop an entire category of crime. But at the same time, no one else can do it, and I don’t know that I like the precedent of saying that business interests trump the societal interests of eliminating an entire category of theft and black market trading. (At the end of the day, I believe that we allow business to operate to benefit society, not the other way around.)

What do you think? Should phone companies add anti-theft technologies to their phones? Why? Is it morally/ethically appropriate on the part of the government/consumers to require companies to act? Is it morally/ethically appropriate on the part of the companies not to act?


Can you align business with ethics?

read time: 1 min