I have been thinking about the ethical side of IT support quite a lot lately. I mean, the ethical issues in the tools we use, the advice and support we give, and the way we treat those we are supposed to assist.
I have been surprised to see some companies, usually small and midsized, use support tools intended for private (non-commercial) use. Take TeamViewer Free: I know of several cases where it was used as a remote assistance tool in a business environment. The most recent one is a local call center, where employees working from home using their own computers are asked to install TeamViewer Free, which according to its EULA is only for personal use.
Another good example is Macrium Reflect. I know Timo from a local expat association, a one man IT team for a small hotel company, half a dozen relatively small hotels and two restaurants here in the state of Saxony. To do backups, Timo drives weekly around Saxony, plugs in a Macrium Reflect Free rescue USB stick and his huge USB HDD to computers he wants to backup. When it’s done, he takes the rescue media and the USB HDD with him, and drives to the next place. None of the businesses involved, including his, owns a single Macrium business/commercial license.
These are just simple examples, but I am sure you get my point. OK, I understand that for instance Timo has no choice, because the owner refuses to pay “if it can be done for free“. However, what’s Timo’s responsibility? Must he be unethical, too, like his boss? Sadly, the answer is yes, if he wants to keep his job.
I hate scripted answers to my calls, scripted replies to my support emails. Nothing is more frustrating than to clearly understand that a help desk agent does in fact not know what you are talking about, answering with something he / she finds from a database of common issues and how to try to resolve them. I hate it especially when it becomes clear that a help desk agent really has no personal knowledge about how to resolve my issue.
What about when you contact the company IT department about an issue, get a ticket number, and then nothing happens? Calling again does not help, you are only told that “we will let you know as soon as it’s fixed“.
Unfortunately, we IT pros too often forget, that we are there to help and assist. Even if an employee asking for help really does not understand anything we say and ask him / her to do, we should understand the situation. Good work ethics in IT support comes from multiple factors: loyalty to the employer, professional knowledge, and an understanding of those seeking assistance, just to name a few.
Friends, family & forums
If you are the family IT Help Desk, or if you volunteer on tech forums, you really need to think about ethics. Is it right to sell one of your Visual Studio (former MSDN) Windows product keys to your friend? Should I help my neighbour get Windows activated with a pirated key? I know how to install and use Group Policies in Windows 10 Home, but as it is one of those features and reasons why the Pro edition costs more, should I show a mate how it’s done? If you want to remain honest, the correct answer to all these questions is no. Full stop. Why? It would be unethical.
The questions I really dislike on forums are those with “I don’t remember my password“. In enterprise IT, this is not a problem: an employee reports that he / she has forgotten the password, IT resets it, done. But assisting a fellow forums member to crack a password, we are in a very grey area. There’s no way to tell if that password was really forgotten, or is it a password for a laptop somehow mysteriously “found?” My advice: never assist in cracking a password, if you cannot be 100% sure that it’s the legitimate owner of that device asking for help.
Yesterday, a fellow Ten Forums member asked how to share Office 365 Personal with someone else, so that this other user would not have access to the account and emails of the person who owns the subscription. I know how to do it. I replied, explaining that it’s possible, but did not give detailed instructions. After replying, I realized that I had stepped over to the dark side, instructing about something that clearly violates the EULA. If you want to share O365, you need the Home version, which comes with 6 licenses. O365 Personal is one license, for one person. You can read this short thread on Ten Forums, to see how it ended.
Please do not take me too seriously, this is just an old school geek “thinking aloud”. I have always been proud that I have and will never use pirated software. I welcome anyone to make a surprise visit to check my devices. However, I occasionally notice that I am going quite close to the unethical, wrong side. I’m doing my best to stay on the right side of that line.
That’s it, geeks!
Author: Kari Finn
A former Windows Insider MVP, Kari started in computing in the mid 80’s writing code for VAX / VMS systems. Since then, he’s worked in a variety of IT positions. He specializes in Windows image capture, customization, repair and deployment as well as Hyper-V virtualization. Kari is a proud Team Member at number #1 Windows site TenForums.com.