Purdue University Informatics Argumentative Essay


An Informatics major learns not only how to design and build effective information technology, but also how to consider the broader social policy questions those technologies create once they are widely adopted. For example, sensor-laden mobile devices enable us to keep in touch and access information wherever we are, but they also introduce a whole host of new privacy and surveillance concerns. Priority packet routing by ISPs would enable services that require large amounts of bandwidth to better serve their customers, but it would also potentially shut out new entrants trying to compete with established giants (the “net neutrality” debate). Although search engines make it easy to find the information we need, they also make it difficult for us to escape the mistakes we might have made in the past, or the misinformation that ended up on the web through no fault of our own (the “right to be forgotten” debate). During Coronavirus, some countries such as China and India are manadating that their citizens use an app that tracks their location and reports that information to the government to potentially aid in tracking the virus. However in the US many would say this is a significant violation of personal privacy and the US government should not be allowed to do something similar, even if it might help track the virus during a pandemic.

These social issues created by our information technology have no easy answers, but as an information professional, you will often have to make design decisions that have significant social consequences. Therefore, it’s important for you to learn how to analyze these kinds of issues and make a reasoned argument for policies that balance competing interests without stifling innovation.

This paper will give you a chance to develop and demonstrate your capacity for critical thinking about information technology and society.

Choose an Issue

For this paper, choose a contemporary social policy issue that is related to information technology and the themes we have discussed in this course. We want you to do new research into a topic that interests you, and formulate a question to debate. You may choose your own topic and question, but here are a few potential issues in case you need some inspiration:

  • How should we balance the legitimate security needs of the State against our right to privacy? Should governmental agencies be allowed to surveil people in the United States in order to detect and stop terrorists, or track Coronavirus, and if so, what limits do we need to impose on that activity?
  • What limits should there be on businesses analyzing our purchasing behavior to deliver more targeted marketing? Should we have an reasonable expectation of privacy when we purchase something?
  • Should we have an expectation of privacy when we use social media? Should there be any limits to what social media companies can do with the information we post on their networks?
  • Should employers be allowed to look at your social media posts or other digital traces when making a decision about hiring you? What sort of limits might there need to be on this?
  • Should employers be allowed to surveil their employees digital actions while at work and use those when determining merit increases and promotions? For example, should they be allowed to monitor how often you check personal social media sites during the day compared to your co-workers? Or how early you enter the building using your ID badge, or how quickly you answer emails? What sort of limits might there need to be on this?
  • How should we encourage artists to make new art, and enable consumers to find the art they like, in the era of digital media and high-speed networks? Is DRM and the prosecution of digital piracy the only possible approach, or are there more creative ways we could accomplish this?
  • Should we continue to grant software patents in the United States, or do we need to limit the kinds of software that is patentable? Do software patents as they are practiced lead to more or less innovation?
  • Who should be held liable if a self-driving car causes an accident? How do we protect consumers without stifling self-driving innovations with the threat of endless lawsuits?
  • Should owners of recreational drones be allowed to fly them anywhere they wish, especially if they are carrying cameras? Or should property owners be allowed to shoot down drones flying over their property?
  • Should the government be allowed to use so-called “Stingray” devices to track and monitor suspects, even though they also collect data from any nearby phones on the same network?
  • Should the government be allowed to force a company like Apple to help it break into the phones of known/suspected terrorists, or does this create a slippery slope that will eventually lead to massive state surveillance and suppression of dissent?
  • Should systems like AirBnB and Uber be regulated in the same way as hotels and taxi companies, even though those systems merely connect people who have services to offer with people who need those services? Or do consumers need the same sort of protections in these new systems that they have enjoyed with traditional hotels and taxis?
  • Or…some other contemporary social issue you care about that is related to the themes of the course…but formulate it as a question that has two or more sides/answers.

Do Some Research

After you’ve chosen a topic, do some research to determine the following:

  • What is the crux of the issue? Debates often takes place at too high of a level, so dig down and determine what the real core questions are, and what is really at stake.
  • Who cares about this issue? Who are the main groups and their positions? Why are each arguing for their respective positions? What do they stand to lose or gain?
  • If there are more neutral analysts who have written on this issue, what they have to say? Look for academic articles or original investigative journalism, especially those that attempt to represent and analyze different sides of the issue.
  • Have any laws, policies, rules, or regulations already been passed in attempt to resolve this issue? If so, what affects have they had?

Keep track of the sources you read and include them in a list of sources at the end of your paper.

Write Your Essay

Next, write a short (approximately 2000 words) argumentative essay that communicates your newly-informed opinion on the issue you’ve chosen. The essay should follow this kind of outline:

  1. Provide a brief description of the issue, the surrounding context, and the question you will be answering. This should explain enough so that someone unfamiliar with the issue can quickly get oriented and be ready to follow your argument.
  2. Articulate your answer to the question, along with evidence supporting your opinion. This evidence should come from the articles, additional sources, and/or course materials you consulted during your research. Your position can be nuanced and in the middle; it doesn’t have to be on the extremes of the debate.
  3. Acknowledge one or two arguments that could be made against your position. Not everyone will agree with you, and there may be legitimate arguments against your point of view. Demonstrate that you recognize and understand the counter-argument(s).
  4. Explain why you think your argument is more convincing than the counter-argument(s), and why the evidence is in your favor.

Your grade will not depend on which side you argue for, but rather how well you articulate your position and support it with evidence from your sources.

Our Expectations About Your Writing

We expect your writing in this essay to be:

  • free of spelling, grammar, punctuation, and other mechanical errors;
  • clear, formal and professional in tone and style;
  • well organized with a clear flow from paragraph to paragraph;
  • respectful when presenting opinions and positions with which you disagree;
  • properly cited.(APA format)