Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 4/9/19: “Nothing Can Bother Me Because It’s Opening Day At Fenway Park” Edition

All’s right with the world..

…despite all evidence to the contrary!

At least for today…

1. Psst! HLN! It’s called “stealing,” you morons. According to a recent survey, 14% of Netflix users share their passwords to the streaming service. That’s about 8 million people. I just watched giggling news-bimbo Robin Meade on HLN and her sidekick Jennifer Westhoven go on about how they hoped Netflix didn’t “crack down” and how this was like “ride-sharing.” No, it’s not like ride-sharing at all. If you want your friend to have  Netflix and they can’t afford it, pay for their subscription. This is theft. Talking heads that rationalize dishonest behavior on TV is one of many cultural factors that incapacitates the ethics alarms of a critical mass of Americans.

And Robin? Being beautiful doesn’t excuse everything.

2.  The Alternate Reality solution to race relations! Professor Chad Shomura of the University of Colorado at Denver has  banned discussions of any white men in his course on American political thought. No Locke,  no Jefferson,  no Rousseau, no Madison, no Hamilton, and  no President before Obama .  Such an irresponsible approach to his course’s topic can’t be prevented by the university because of academic freedom, of course: if a professor thinks he or she can teach physics by playing with puppies, that’s up to them. I would suggest, however, that any student incapable of figuring out that such a course is an extended con is a fool and a dupe. What’s the equivalent of this? Teaching the history of baseball without mentioning Babe Ruth?

3.  Pop Ethics Quiz: Is this fair? After legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin said on CNN that outgoing Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen ” will forever be known as the ‘woman who put children in cages,” conservative pundit and ex-Justice Department lawyer T Beckett Adams tweeted, “I doubt it. People have short memories. There’s a reason we don’t call Toobin the “married man who knocked up a former colleague’s daughter and had to be taken to court to pay child support.”  Adams’ description is fair, but is using it in this context ethical?

I tend to think not, but it’s a close call. [Pointer: Althouse]

4. Legislative incompetence. A while back I labeled Steve King an incompetent elected official for his clueless questioning of Google  CEO Sundar Pichai.

I owe King an apology—this was an example of allowing my dislike of the man for his other ethical issues—like being a racist—influence my judgment. For King might be one of the more competent members of Congress in his age group when it comes to technology. In a horrifying article that reveals that Senators Chuck Schumer, Lindsay Graham, and Richard Shelby all have an aversion to, or complete ignorance of, e-mail, Washington Monthly reveals that “when Paul Ryan paid a visit in 2014 to Jim Sensenbrenner, who at the time was a senior member of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, he found the congressman tapping out letters on an IBM Selectric II.” Grace Gedye writes,

“These old-fashioned habits may be charming coming from your grandparents, but your grandparents aren’t charged with legislating on cryptocurrency, regulating autonomous vehicles, or protecting consumers from data breaches….This lack of tech savvy causes problems well beyond wrangling with the Facebooks and Googles of the world, for the simple reason that tech is baked into all policy areas. Regulators worry that software installed in medical devices could be hacked. Lawyers and activists are concerned about bias in the algorithms used to assess bail. Legislators who want to fight climate change need to know which renewable energy sources are ready for commercialization. But the dearth of expertise hamstrings Congress throughout the entire policy process—from deciding which issues to prioritize, to drafting bills, to exercising oversight.’

No wonder so many members of Congress were sympathetic to Hillary Clinton’s e-mail machinations. I include a section in every one of my legal ethics seminars about how basic competence requirements mandate that lawyers keep up with technological developments affecting their work and  their clients, including how social media operates, its uses and its perils. Who’s explaining this to law-makers?

5.  “Nah, there’s no mainstream media bias” note of the day: Vox hack Matt Yglesias, who describes himself as a “neoliberal shill,” actually tweeted this:

“Nobody likes to give themselves credit for this kind of messaging success, but progressive groups did a really good job of convincing people that Trump raised their taxes when the facts say a clear majority got a tax cut.”

Matt and I have different understandings of the word “good.”

6. Yes, I blame Trump for this problem. It’s fine to say that any American child can grow up to be President, but it is not ethical for everyone to run for President. Way back in 2010, when Trump was making noises about running, I condemned it as dangerous and irresponsible for people like Trump to use the important process of running for President for “branding,” and ego gratification. Now that his 2015 candidacy, thanks to chaos theory and a series of unpredictable and unfortunate events, actually got him elected, everyone seems to think they have a chance, and in fact, they might. Swinging all the way from the rigged 2016 nomination/coronation process that made Hillary Clinton its nominee without ever earning it, the Democratic Party is now experimenting with a the GOP clown car method that worked out so, so well.  The Democratic field of potential nominees is 19, and that doesn’t even include Creepy Joe Biden, who is now walking, talking proof of the Democrats’ #MeToo hypocrisy. The latest Candidate Who Has No Business Running But More Than Donald Trump So He Actually Does Have Business Running is California Rep. Eric Swalwell,  who announced his candidacy on CBS’s Colbert Trump Hate Show.  Swalwell, in a burst of rhetorical excess, once exclaimed that gun-owner efforts at resisting a Second Amendment repeal by the government would be futile because “the government has nukes.” He is essentially the anti-gun candidate, spouting “do something” nonsense like he did last night, to barks of approval from the Colbert seals in the audience:

“I talk to kids who sit in their classroom afraid that they’ll be the next victim of gun violence. And they see Washington doing nothing about it after the moments of silence, and they see lawmakers who love their guns more than they love their kids. And none of that is gonna change until we get a leader who is willing to go big on the issues we take on, be bold in the solutions we offer and do good in the way that we govern. I’m ready to solve theses problems. I’m running for president of the United States.”

If students are really afraid that they will be victims of gun violence, it’s dishonest scare-mongers like Swalwell who are responsible for it.

When I hear pols like Swalwell (You can name others, I’m sure) use gross generalities as if they were actually policy specifics to con the rubes, I am always reminded of this scene from “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying”:


44 thoughts on “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 4/9/19: “Nothing Can Bother Me Because It’s Opening Day At Fenway Park” Edition

  1. Jack, when was the last time you logged into Netflix? From what I can see, account sharing is absolutely the norm, and is part of the business model. Upon login, you’re greeted with a “Who’s Watching?” page, with different users on a single account being able to see suggestions based on their own personal watching habits. Netflix even offers a family plan that’s described as moocher-friendly, letting up to four devices stream different things concurrently. I would argue that letting a friend log in to your Netflix, either when you’re not using it or as part of a family plan, is no more unethical than letting that same friend shower or couch-surf in your apartment, provided your leasing authority doesn’t specifically prohibit having friends sleep over (not a perfect analogy, since water, unlike Netflix, is often metered). Clearly that’s not the case with Netflix, as they have designed their platform intentionally to be multiple-user friendly. I’m not sure how you got to “sharing a service you’ve paid for that’s designed by the service provider to be shared is theft.”

    • It is theft. I pay for Netflix, and that’s why I have Netflix. What you describe flunks the “If everybody did it” test. If everybody did it, Netflix would have exactly one subscriber, and go out of business. That it may decide that allowing the theft is less trouble than cracking down on it is a business decision, just like deciding not to prosecute senior shop-lifters.

      • That’s not quite right… Netflix limits the numbers of screens one account can play content on specifically because this was exactly how Netflix intended their product to be used.

        • What wasn’t intended though, was the use of VPN services to contravene regional licensing. Something like 30% of Canadian Netflix subscribers used a VPN to pretend they had an American address because American Netflix had a superior catalogue despite charging the same fee.

          They DID crack down on that last year.

          • So if your point is “if everybody does it” is impossible, that Kantian test is almost always impossible. The idea is that if the conduct would be disastrous if everybody could and did do it, then it’s not ethical conduct.

            • By that measure, letting someone borrow my cell to make a call is theft. If everyone did it, there would be one person in the country paying for unlimited daytime minutes, and the rest us would just wait our turn to use the line.

              More seriously, I’m interested in what your test for ‘disastrous’ is. The rise of automobiles was certainly disastrous for the buggy whip industry, and therefore buying a car is unethical?

              • 1. The phone isn’t a good analogy: that would be the equivalent of allowing someone to watch Netflix in your home.
                2. Safeway gives me discounts for enrolling in their “club.” It’s a trade of data and loyalty for cash, essentially. I use my phone number as my ID. If I give my ID to another shopper who has not joined the “club,” I’m cheating Safeway.
                2. Disastrous means a net loss for society. The automobile was a net gain, even if some parties were worse off.

                • 1. Fair – it’s tough to find good analogies, and I accept that mine was insufficient.

                  2. If Safeway had a program where you’re issued a physical card, and only people in possession of that card could get the discount, would it be unethical to share that card with a friend who’s making a run to Safeway? What if they issued you, say, four cards?

                  2(again?). I think you’re absolutely right here. Would it be a net loss for society if Netflix goes under because they failed to clamp down on (some might say they even encouraged) account-sharing? For that matter, aren’t we cheating a bit with 20/20 hindsight to say that obviously automobiles were a net gain to society? During the early days of the transition, I believe we could have found many people who would have emphatically disagreed that these noisy, disruptive, dangerous machines were really a step forward at all. Heck, for a modern take just ask AOC and the AGW crowd – the widespread use of internal combustion engines was clearly one of the great evils of the 20th century. (Sarcasm mine)

                  On a completely different note, thanks for thoughtfully engaging. I suspect I’m somewhat younger, less-educated, and in a completely different phase of life and line of work than most of the regulars here, but ever since I stopped by early in the Kavanaugh train wreck last year, I’ve been hooked. I don’t often feel I have much to contribute, and I don’t always agree with you, but I know you’ve taken the ethical foundation my parents instilled and helped me to apply it to the world around me. I know you often struggle with feeling like your reach has been curtailed due to your social media woes, but rest assured you’ve made an impact on at least one mind – thank you for that.

                • Jack:

                  Andrew’s commentary in this thread is exactly why EA is so important.

                  You are reaching people, many of whom never comment. I call that a validation of your efforts.

                  Never forget that your impact is greater than you can see.

              • Reverse slippery slope much, Andrew?

                Cell service is an entirely different category than an ENTERTAINMENT service. This line of ‘reasoning’ make you seem to have a very entitled viewpoint.

                Are you sure you want to go with that?

                • As you and Jack both correctly observed it wasn’t a very cogent point. My line of thought was more as an example of “pay for an unlimited amount of a service on a single device (one screen in use at any one time for example), and share it around for convenience or to get the most out of that service, even if the payer isn’t the one utilizing the service.”

                  Thanks for the response – I agree I was coming at it wrong; a case of me trying to muddle through understanding what makes the original example right or wrong by relating it to other examples.

                  • I reviewed your response to Jack (his was not there when I posted) and understand where you are coming from. Jack, as always, had the more cogent approach.

                    I will view future posts through the lens of trying to learn: one I myself use here at EA.

                    Welcome to the site!

                    • Please don’t hesitate in the future to point out cases where I’m building on a fallacy! It can only help me improve the way I reason through things. Hopefully I never get too thick-headed or attached to an argument to admit when I’m wrong, especially on something like this that’s less black-and-white than we’d all prefer.

                      And I appreciate the welcome – although I admit to lurking long enough that I feel I know all of the regulars, and respect most of them, including yourself. Looking forward to continuing to engage now that I’ve abandoned anonymity.

                    • I’m pleased as punch that you’re taking the time to reason things through. So few people do, these days. May I add my welcome to slickwilly’s?

              • The use of a phone by a non subscriber precludes the use by the actual subscriber. If Netflx limits the number of discrete logins at a given time it does not matter who is viewing; thus it is not theft.

                If Netflix cannot control the number of simultaneous users then it is only theft if the user violates the license. Software piracy changed the methods of creating and distributing intellectual property.

                • “If Netflix limits the number of discrete logins at a given time it does not matter who is viewing; thus it is not theft.” I am paying for my Netflix use. If my next door neighbor is not, but is using his West Coast brother’s ID to do so free of charge, then my neighbor is taking services without paying for them that I have to pay for.

                  I don’t know what else you would call that but uncompensated and unconsented to use of a service. The fact that it’s a Netflix loophole is like saying someone can come into my house and eat my food if I leave the door unlocked and that’s OK.

                  • Jack, the determination as to whether use of goods that are non-exclusive is determined in the license agreement.

                    I am not a subscriber to Netflix but I would feel funny to “borrow” my sister in law’s account credentials. I also won’t take the last cookie or help myself to unlimited samples.

                    My cable service offers its own streaming so I can log in anywhere in the country. I have no idea what the rules are because I don’t use it and I have no time to read through a 20 page TOS in 6 point legalese.

                    The issue is whether something is ethical if it is legal. I too think it is wrong to use another’s credential to access a service but I do not begrudge others that do if the business fails to advise subscribers that the honor system limits simultaneous users.

                  • Upon review I see I worded the above incorrectly. I meant to say that if the firm limits the number of logins and does not specifically spell out who are eligible logins then it is not theft.
                    However, as Slick Willy stated the Net,Flix EULA specifically spells out who has the right to login and the prohibitions against sharing.

                    The EULA makes the point moot.

                • Chris,

                  You are violating the EULA, and the contract, when you allow a non-family member to use the service:

                  Netflix Service
                  4.1. You must be 18 years of age, or the age of majority in your province, territory or country, to become a member of the Netflix service. Individuals under the age of 18, or applicable age of majority, may utilize the service only with the involvement of a parent or legal guardian, under such person’s account and otherwise subject to these Terms of Use.
                  4.2. The Netflix service and any content viewed through our service are for your personal and non-commercial use only and may not be shared with individuals beyond your household…

                  Doesn’t that legally make it theft?

                  • SW
                    It is theft. I pointed out I am not a subscriber so it stands to reason I cannot make a claim specific to Netflix

                    My statement from the beginning was that the TOS or user license determines what is legitimate use. I do not use anyone’s services nor have I ever made a copy of another’s software to avoid paying.

                  • Started having connection errors trying to respond to this comment on mobile early this afternoon, but I did want to make sure I came back and said this:

                    You are absolutely correct, and I concede the point to you and Jack; account-sharing outside of one’s household is obviously unethical. I don’t know if it’s theft as much as abuse of the service (if only we had legal professionals here to clarify the point!) but my original stance was pretty clearly wrong. Thanks for setting me straight.

    • I think you’re using it wrong.
      I get the whose watching question when I log in. The choice is basically between “The Parents” and “The Kids.” It is not for In-laws, friends, or other people outside our household.

      And, allowing it to play simultaneously on four different devices could be because we have two TV’s, two smartphones and two tablets in our house so people may be using different devices all within the same household.

      If I were to bet, I suspect Netflix has those features for the very reasons I put forward, and not because they want me to share my credentials with friends and neighbors.


      • The ‘names’ of the account users are completely customizable. I accept that you’ve accurately described how you utilize Netflix, but absent clarification from the service provider, I disagree that either of us is using it wrong.

        While I see your point and respect your opinion, if Netflix intended their service to be used a specific way across multiple screens, they should clarify that specific way in their written terms of service. I admit, I haven’t read the TOS thoroughly, yet, but I suppose I need to now that I’ve made claims based on what they do or don’t contain.

      • Netflix knows what IP address they are streaming to. Most houses have a primary (even if dynamically assigned) IP address, so they know that 4 devices, say, are in the same house. If there are four different locations with diverse IPs, the jig might be up, should they decide to crack down.

        • Well, in that regard, when we traveled down to Texas to see the in-laws, we logged into our account from down there (the in-laws don’t have Netflix).

          Netflix never made a peep about it and I don’t believe that we were doing anything improper as WE were using OUR account, albeit in a different location (though the in-laws got a benefit from it for a few days).


          • Jut,
            Same same here. My wife and I accessed our Netflix account a couple of times while visiting our daughter and grandkids out-of-state, but I did get an email prompt from Netflix that was basically a “heads up, your account was accessed from a different location, no action required if this was you” message. Their was no implication that I had misused my account.

            This topic prompted memories of the early days of cable TV when I lived in an apartment complex. When I moved in I had cable service, which was sometimes included in rents but in this case I hadn’t been told so. A few weeks later the cable quit working and when I asked the manager about it he said that periodically some tenant would hook up cable for everyone in the complex until the cable company caught on and disconnected everyone not a subscriber. This cycle would repeat every few months, he said. I quickly became a subscriber, but when I asked my neighbors about it, about half were subscribers and half were content to use the intermittent “free” cable. In their minds, they weren’t doing anything wrong because they weren’t doing the illegal hookups. For those who didn’t subscribe, the cable companies eventually got the “cable box” technology that required more than a few signal splitters to defeat. I expect Netflix will eventually develop ways to tell if someone is gaming their terms of service.

          • Netflix never made a peep about it and I don’t believe that we were doing anything improper as WE were using OUR account, albeit in a different location

            Jut, you moved the goalposts just a tad there. I did not say Netflix from another location (IP address) was improper use. You either had a device already signed in to Netflix, or you signed in from a different location on a different device. That is authorized use of the account per the ToS.

            Had you left it logged in and allowed your in-laws to continue to use your account, it would be theft under the Netflix terms of use: “The Netflix service and any content viewed through our service are for your personal and non-commercial use only and may not be shared with individuals beyond your household…”

            (Note that my son moved away to college and used our account from that location. He was still a member of my ‘household:’ I paid for his school and expenses, I claimed him on my taxes, and he is my son. No ethical or legal violation)

            My contention was that Netflix knows when someone signs in with multiple screens in the same house, as opposed to from diverse locations. This is a simple fact. Should they choose to crack down (like they did with Canadian VPNs) this would be a tool (but not the only one) they could use to look for theft.

            An easy way to cut down on this practice would be to use two factor authentication. Once an account is flagged as suspicious, users would be required to log in and get a code sent to a cell phone or email address. Non household members would have to ask the account holder (over and over) every time they want to steal services. This would become bothersome, and highlight to the account holder that they are complicit in theft, every time they give that code. It creates an electronic ‘paper trail,’ if you will, showing a conspiracy to commit fraud and theft. I suspect fewer would be willing to share (especially for such a low cost service) when the perceived risk is raised.

            Why doesn’t Netflix do something? Obviously, the costs of ‘doing something’ are higher presently than the costs of doing nothing. The company is thriving, and they do not need the bad publicity. If the current market dynamic changes, Netflix already has enough information to mark suspicious accounts and investigate further.

            Even if Netflix never decides to pursue this sort of theft, it still falls to the account holder to determine if non household account sharing is ethical. My opinion is that consciously violating the terms one agreed to when entering into a contract is illegal, and therefore unethical.

  2. Jack. Academic freedom does not give the professor a license to bastardize the curriculum by not including what are considered standard components.
    What is at play is administrative abdication

  3. Thanks for acknowledging you goofed on 4. King may have not properly articulated, but he was right and Google obfuscated and misdirected.

  4. (2) Academic freedom does not protect you from failing to educate your students. His department could petition to have him fired for incompetence or willfully failing to teach the course material. This won’t happen, however. The accreditation body should investigate and threaten to sanction the school, but that won’t happen either. Why does the public have such a low opinion of our colleges and universitites? Hmmm…I can’t understand why.

    (3) No it isn’t fair. Toobin actually did have an affair with a much younger woman (the daughter of a colleague) , get her pregnant, try to get her to abort the baby, threaten her, avoid a paternity test, and refused to pay court-ordered child support (according to the article). To my knowledge Nielsen did not lock children up in cages.

    (6) I think Trump deserves a little more credit. I think he has shown that he is more capable in the office than anyone thought he would be. I think we are better off with Trump in the office that we would have been with Clinton in the office. I also think he has shown he is much more competent than any of the leading Democrats in this country (Pelosi, Waters, Schumer, Booker, etc). I don’t think Trump showed that anyone can run for president. Trump has just shown how little talent there actually is at the top of our two political parties. Since Trump has shown himself the equal or better of the best the two parties have to offer,I don’t actually understand the logic that says that Swalwell (far from the top talent in the Democratic party) is more qualified than Trump to run for president. Swalwell is just another Democrat with failing totalitarian ideas from a failed, totalitarian state.

    • I was unclear: I was asking if Adams’ swipe at Toobin was unfair, even if true. It’s obviously a smear to make the cages claim, but it’s another favorite anti-Trump Big Lie.

      • I don’t think you were unclear; I think his response was intended to twist around the facts for a humorous effect.
        Am I right, Michael R.?

        • Yes, I was trying to be humorous. Another fail. Everything has gotten so ridiculous it is hard to distinguish the joke from reality. sigh…

          • I got it and it made me smile.

            But it also made me smile because sometimes I think I have written something that is very clear only to have a reader come to a different conclusion that is more than reasonable based on what I wrote in the first place. My words are used fairly and reasonably against me, even if the reader really knew what I was trying to say.

            Taken to the extreme that can be sharp practice and unethical but I don’t think the present instance of yours qualifies as such at all. Just good humor.

  5. Swallwell’s qualification is that he looks good in brown shirts. He provides the perfect Aryian profile.

  6. If students are really afraid that they will be victims of gun violence, it’s dishonest scare-mongers like Swalwell who are responsible for it.

    The anti-gun cult will no more admit that criminal homicide rates are at an all-time low, than Holocaust deniers would admit that there were gas chambers in Auschwitz.

    Professor Chad Shomura of the University of Colorado at Denver has banned discussions of any white men in his course on American political thought. No Locke, no Jefferson, no Rousseau, no Madison, no Hamilton, and no President before Obama . Such an irresponsible approach to his course’s topic can’t be prevented by the university because of academic freedom, of course: if a professor thinks he or she can teach physics by playing with puppies, that’s up to them. I would suggest, however, that any student incapable of figuring out that such a course is an extended con is a fool and a dupe. What’s the equivalent of this? Teaching the history of baseball without mentioning Babe Ruth?

    Imagine teaching about the European theater of World War Ii while banning discussions about the Holocaust.

  7. Netflix allows up to two screens to stream simultaneously under the same account and allows you to create unique profiles for multiple users. What’s more, early advertising and promotion for the service even seemed to promote it. Even after they changed the rules, it was an open secret they ignored (like Obama on immigration).

    In other words, they were fine with “ride-sharing” until they had major competition and started losing market-share. Now, they’ve threatened to crack down. This is akin to a friend inviting everyone to “drink up” at a dinner and then suddenly insisting everyone go Duth when they see the bar bill.

    They made their own bed on this one.

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