Ethics in E-Commerce:
Digital Nudging


Student Materials

There are three student handouts for this lab.


Ethics background required: This lab refers to the following ethics frameworks: Virtue Ethics, Deontology, and Utilitarianism. Brief descriptions of each are included in the take-home assignments so professors and students who are not familiar with these approaches can still complete the lab. Using these frameworks reinforces what students learned in the first year curriculum (if that was used).

Subject matter referred to in this lab: E-Commerce, Databases, Dark Patterns

Placement in overall ethics curriculum:

Time required:

Timing suggestion: Since this exercise has a more significant time requirement outside of class, it could be used when a professor needs to miss a class. Alternatively, it could be used after an exam when students do not have other homework.

Learning objectives:

Ethical dilemma or issue to be considered: Transparency, dignity

This lab looks at ethical considerations in E-Commerce. It explores, using three different ethical frameworks, how pre-set choices on webpages can “nudge” a person to choose options that are not in their best interest. A dilemma to be considered here is the tension between a company making money by encouraging customers to buy their product or to upgrade and the resulting positive or negative experience for the consumer.



Guide for Instructors

Lesson plan

Introduction (to be presented to class either online or in class)

Buying and selling online, banking online, and other electronic transactions are becoming more and more popular. As is often the case with new technology, the way that E-Commerce has been used and exploited could not be completely predicted, and has resulted in some ethical issues. This lab gives us the opportunity to explore and discuss some of the ethical dilemmas and issues that exist with online buying and selling in particular.


Reflection as a class

Review the answers in the handout.

Here are some ideas for the instructor, which can be reviewed as the students do their work.


  1. Give an example of a dark pattern.
  2. Use an argument from virtue ethics as to why this example is unethical.
  3. Create a rule that could be included in a code of ethics for a company that would keep company marketers from using these patterns and still remaining in good standing with the company.


Khurana, Ajeet. 2019. “Learn the Basics about e-Commerce.”