Impact of Digital Technology

Impact of Technology on Society

This is very broad topic that requires you to have a general understanding of some of the current trends with technology. These questions are often quite long, and involve an essay style question for 6 or more marks.

This topic is hard to revise for, but you should make sure that you keep on top of news articles, and have a general interest in some of the discussions that are currently happening in the news. This will give you something topical to talk about in the essay question.

Key Terminology

Explain the current ethical, legal and environmental impacts and risks of digital technology on society.

This is the exact quote from the specification, and questions on this topic will expect you to be able to discuss the issue from all three standpoints. So what do they mean?

  1. Ethical - The balance of right and wrong. For example, the use of child labour to produce cheap electronics is considered by some to be exploiting children, but for others they feel that it is a good income for families who would otherwise struggle without the money.
  2. Legal - Are there any relevant legal arguments about the topic. For example, copying code from a program is technically illegal against the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, but copying an algorithm is not.
  3. Environmental - The increase in the use of electronics has led to a large number of environmental issues, including increased pollution, landfill and energy use. It has also led to the scarcity of some trace elements such as Indium. However, the use of some computer systems has reduced some environmental impacts, such as the reduction in the amount of paper required.

You are not expected to know about any acts in detail, but these will be very useful to be able to quote in extended answers when you are considering the legal impact of technology.

General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) (2018)

This law protects the collection and storage of personal data. In summary it states the following:

  1. Personal data shall be processed lawfully, fairly and in a transparent manner in relation to the data subject
  2. Personal data shall be collected for specified, explicit and legitimate purposes and not further processed in a manner that is incompatible with those purposes
  3. Personal data shall be adequate, relevant and limited to what is necessary in relation to the purposes for which they are processed
  4. Personal data shall be accurate and, where necessary, kept up to date
  5. Personal data shall be kept in a form which permits identification of data subjects for no longer than is necessary for the purposes for which the personal data are processed
  6. Personal data shall be processed in a manner that ensures appropriate security of the personal data, including protection against unauthorised or unlawful processing and against accidental loss, destruction or damage, using appropriate technical or organisational measures
  7. The controller shall be responsible for, and be able to demonstrate compliance with the GDPR

Source: ICO

Computer Misuse Act (1990)

This act relates to hacking and other forms of unauthorised access and tampering of computer data including the use of malware.

Under this act, the following offences were created:

  1. Unauthorised access to computer material.
  2. Unauthorised access with intent to commit or facilitate commission of further offences.
  3. Unauthorised acts with intent to impair, or with recklessness as to impairing, operation of computer, etc.
  4. Unauthorised acts causing, or creating risk of, serious damage
  5. Making, supplying or obtaining articles for use in any of the above offences

Source: Gov.Uk

Copyright and Patents Act (1988)

This acts protects original work from being copied. All work is by default protected by copyright laws, and this extends to software. However, the act does not cover an idea for an algorithm, which means that code can be protected by copyright, but the idea on how to write the code (the algorithm behind it) cannot be.

Impact of Digital Technology, figure 1

Data Privacy

One of the areas mentioned explicitly in the specification is data privacy, and this is also a hot topic in the news. Specifically data privacy issues should look at the balance between a personal right to keep certain information private and national security.

The two standpoints as stated in the specification are as follows:

Students should be aware that ordinary citizens normally value their privacy and may not like it when governments or security services have too much access.

Students should be aware that governments and security services often argue that they cannot keep their citizens safe from terrorism and other attacks unless they have access to private data.

This case was an excellent demonstration of these issues:–Apple_encryption_dispute

Background Information

Students will be expected to understand and explain the general principles behind the issues rather than have detailed knowledge on specific issues.

Exam questions will be taken from the following areas:

  1. Cyber security
  2. Mobile technologies
  3. Wireless networking
  4. Cloud storage
  5. Theft of computer code
  6. Issues around copyright of algorithms
  7. Cracking
  8. Hacking
  9. Wearable technologies
  10. Computer based implants.

These areas are very broad and questions could be taken from any section, so you need to be able to talk about the topic in a clear way. The best thing to do is have some standard arguments for each, and read some relevant news articles to see what other people think. I have tried to provide some of these below.

Cyber Security, Cracking and Hacking

Cyber Security relates to protecting systems from attack or damage.

Hacking, is the act of stealing personal or private data, without the owner’s knowledge or consent, it could also include other things like stealing passwords or creating a bot net. It can involve things like SQL Injection attacks, phishing or even brute force.

Cracking is where someone finds and manipulates a backdoor in software. For example, creating a key generator that tricks a piece of software into thinking that the user has entered a genuine product key.

Here are some useful news articles:

Personal Technology

Mobile Technologies refer to devices that can easily be moved around, such as smartphones and tablets.

Wearable technologies relate to the increased use of technology that we carry attached to us. For example, fitness trackers, google glass, smartwatches, wearable cameras and even devices used for health.

Computer Based Implants is a growing area of technology and can be used to either enhance an individual, or to assist those with a disability. There are lots of examples of technology already in use such as cochlea implants and bionic eyes, but there are also examples of emerging technology to do things such as implanted tracking chips, augmented reality contact lenses, and even brain implants to help with memory or ability.

Here are some useful news articles:

Wireless Networking and Cloud Storage

Wireless Networking allows computer devices around the world to quickly and easily connect to one another. It allows you to have wireless headphones, or to link up a phone quickly and easily with a car, or even just watch a movie on the go.

Cloud Storage is the use of magnetic and solid state storage at a remote location to store information. Theres lots of information about cloud storage in the main lesson on secondary storage.

Here are some useful news articles:

This is a difficult area because the law has not yet quite caught up with technology, and people are unsure on how to interpret the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act in relation to pieces of software and algorithms.

For example, what happens in the case when code is created that looks on the surface to have been copied. How can people find out who copied who? And who has the right to use the code? What about if the two pieces of code were developed simultaneously - something that has been known to happen in the past.

In a famous example, Clifford Cocks, while working at the___ United Kingdom Government Communications Headquarters___ (GCHQ) in 1973, invented a public key cryptography algorithm equivalent to what later became known as the RSA algorithm after it was independently discovered by__ Rivest__, Shamir, and Adleman in 1977. Public Key Cryptography using prime factorisation is now part of nearly every internet transaction.

Also, even if the idea for how the algorithm should work was copied, is it even possible to steal something that is just an idea?

The idea of algorithms and computer code ___belonging ___to an organisation or individual is covered under Intellectual Property rights. However, intellectual property is something unique that you physically create. An idea alone is not intellectual property.

So the expression of an algorithm in a source code file can be copyrighted, but not the algorithm itself, which could be reproduced later.

Intellectual property can become even more difficult in the case of individuals who produce programs whilst working at a company, as some companies will have a clause in their contract signing over the rights to everything employees produce whilst working there to them. Which means if they remove anything from the company, they are likely to be in breach of your contract. But can that include ideas?

Here are some useful news articles:

Structuring a Response

When you answer these questions, you need to be able to provide a structured response, which connects your arguments together and has a valid conclusion. If your response is not structured well, you are usually restricted on the number of marks you can achieve, even if you have lots of different points.

If the question says to discuss, this means that you need to provide arguments (more than 1) for both sides, as well as a balanced conclusion which draws all of your response together.

Also make sure that you do everything that the question asks you to. For example, if in the question it says to include information about something, you should make sure that you have included it.

Example Question

You can find the question at the end of this subtopic.

In your answer you should include an explanation of the reasons for the large growth in recent years and consider any legal, ethical and environmental issues related to the use of cloud storage.

In the mark scheme for this question, to get the top mark band (7-9 marks), you need to include:

Answer contains a sustained line of reasoning with a substantiated explanation for the recent large growth in cloud computing that contains both technological and social reasons. There is a logically structured consideration of the advantages and disadvantages associated with the use of cloud storage - including relevant points covering at least two of legal, ethical and environmental issues.

For the second mark band (4-6 marks) it says:

nswer includes an explanation for the recent large growth in the use of cloud storage that includes both technological and social reasons. There is a logically structured consideration of the advantages and disadvantages associated with cloud storage - including one or two relevant points related to legal, ethical and environmental issues.

Finally, to get any marks at all, it says:

The answer includes either a description of some of the reasons for the large recent growth in the use of cloud computing and/or a brief consideration of the advantages and/or disadvantages associated with using cloud storage.

As you can see from these bands, to even get 1/3 of the marks, you have to have included more than 1 reason for the increase in the use of cloud storage and at least 1 issue associated with the use of it. If these are not included, then you have lost 6 marks which could easily be the difference between two grades.

In recent years there has been a large growth in the use of cloud computing. Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of using cloud storage.
Your answer should include: legal / ethical / environmental