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I work for a company as a programmer that builds websites and applications for businesses, one of them being a company who wants to embed content from a third-party review service.

The deadline is extremely tight (start to finish in two weeks), but the approved design for the service goes full-bore against the terms of service of the third-party service (generally embedding static content that must be dynamic).

I raised concerns about implementing the feature this way reflecting poorly on our company. Management responded by indicating that we would be moving forward with the feature as-is and not bringing it up to the client. I am not in contact with the client in any way.

I do understand that I am being paid to do a job, but this may be a major problem that our company is hiding from the client.

Is there anything I can do to improve the situation?

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    As well as covering yourself as other answers have stated, be careful - The management are basically stating they are not to be trusted. If they are willing to be dishonest to a customer, why would they have any qualms with being dishonest to their employees?
    – colmde
    Sep 26 '16 at 10:19
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    If you do have to violate the terms of service, and decide to do do, be sure you get the direction to do it that way in writing over a manager's signature.
    – keshlam
    Oct 25 '16 at 23:09
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It looks like you are in a career-defining situation, where you have to decide whether you are going to do as ordered when you know it is dishonest.

Once when I was young, I worked in a business where I was told to tell a client something that wasn't true. I did as I was asked, got very little sleep that night, then quit the job the next day, and called the client and told him what I had done. (Needless to say, I was persona non grata at my previous employer's after that.) Nowadays, I would have worked with management to look for an honest solution to the problem, and would have quit the job if I couldn't convince them to change their proposed solution. If honesty is important to you, you can always find people to work with who it's important to as well. Dishonesty becomes a habit, and a heavy burden to bear.

If you do decide to go through with it, I hope you raised your concerns and got your response in writing, so they can't try to blame you for it if things go sideways. If you didn't, then try to get things down in writing; find more reasons for concern to have a reason to email, and email them to your management. If you find down the line that you have behaved dishonestly, please keep in mind that honest people are not people who are never dishonest, but people who own up to it when they are, and do their best not to be dishonest in quite the same way again. Everybody is dishonest sometimes in one way or another, especially with themselves.

By the way, when you are working with dishonest management, "reflects poorly on the company" isn't typically something that they much care about. It might be more persuasive if you explain the kind of trouble they can get in if they violate the TOS of the company (especially if it's a big company) who provides the content you describe.

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    In cases where the ethical implications of a poor decision don't seem to matter to management, an appeal to the financial and legal consequences often will work.
    – DLS3141
    Mar 29 '16 at 12:27
  • @DLS3141Exactly. :)
    – BobRodes
    Mar 29 '16 at 16:47
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Did you check it with Technical Support of the 3rd-party? As a technical supporter, I can say that we used to receive requests of this sort, and sometimes there is a solution, such as "special mode" (probably undocumented one). I don't know if that's applicable to your case, but you always can try.

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  • -1: talking to the third party alerts them to the fact that their ToS is being broken. Mar 29 '16 at 6:14
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    I have not ever heard about merging technical support and legal department together in any company. Mar 29 '16 at 8:19
  • I don't think this deserves a down-vote. The question is what can I do to improve the situation, and this offers an option to potentially give management what they want and not do anything unethical. Seems like something worth a quick e-mail or phone call.
    – ColleenV
    Mar 29 '16 at 21:11
  • @PhilipKendall Technically it's researching a solution to a problem. The OP doesn't have to mention which company they are from, not even that they're going forward with it, just that they're researching the possibility themselves.
    – rath
    Sep 27 '16 at 10:57
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From a legal point of view you personally probably can't be held accountable, although this depends on your jurisdiction. In general individuals can't be held accountable for actions they do in the normal cause of their duties (respondeat superior).

This is a "great" system that allows corporations to commit all sorts of evils and crimes without anyone actually being hold accountable for this (e.g. Bhopal Disaster, Libor scandal, many more). In the Enron scandal only upper management was held criminally accountable, even though many more employees were involved in the fraud.

From a moral point of view, things may be more grey, depending on your personal viewpoints and the precise situation (the post isn't specific enough on this). Things you could possibly do are:

  • Implement it. This is certainly the path of least resistance.

  • Put your foot down and refuse to do it. This may incur long-term damage to your status and may even lead to your firing, depending on your standing and company culture. It may also not be very effective, since another developer can just pick up where you left off. It may work, though. I once did this successfully when asked to grossly plagiarize content.

  • You could contact the client − perhaps anonymously − to make them aware of the problem; or you could "accidentally" drop a hint somehow which leads to "awkward" questions.

  • You can make the company whose terms of service are being violated aware of the problem, who may then choose to take action.

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You have raised concerns, you may not be privy to all the details and it's not constructive to speculate. It's your responsibility to follow orders.

It's managements responsibility to make sure nothing untoward is happening with the client. So long as your back is covered then you should go ahead.

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  • If you have Management's response in writing, you're covered legally on this one. Assume that this is a temporary stopgap given the short deadline, hold your nose, and turn in the code. You can bring it up again, as a query about future plans, after the deadline has been met.
    – keshlam
    Mar 29 '16 at 1:37
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    I must respectfully observe that this is precisely the line of reasoning that leads to institutionalized fascism.
    – BobRodes
    Mar 29 '16 at 6:28
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    Hardly a gas chamber situation though, business is a rough game
    – Kilisi
    Mar 29 '16 at 7:55
  • "Its your responsibility to follow orders" - where did you get that from? A software company isn't an army. And even if it was, most modern armies have the principle that one has a responsibility to refuse to obey an unlawful order. Nov 9 '20 at 22:26

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