If someone lets you use their computer, and it needs some updates installing – assuming the owner isn’t there to ask – should you do it?
On the one hand, it’s none of your business. It’s their computer, their responsibility to update it. Just say “no” to the pop-ups and continue checking your email. Maybe they know what they’re doing, and have actively chosen not to run the updates: they prefer the version of the program they’re currently running, for example, and are holding off from upgrading to the latest one.
On the other hand, perhaps like most computer users they’re just hopelessly technologically illiterate and don’t realise they’re supposed to say “OK” to
all some of the pop-ups that appear every time they boot up. And what if some of the updates are urgent security patches? Without them, the machine could be hacked, infected, recruited into a botnet and used to attack other systems. Like a child without a measles vaccination, increasing the risk of epidemic in the wider population, every second this computer isn’t updated puts every other computer in the world at greater risk. It’s not just acceptable, it’s your duty to update.
Personally, I lean towards the viewpoint that says you should update, although only if you’re sure the computer’s owner is ignorant and you’re acting in their best interests. It’s the classic paternalist position: the more informed making the right choices on behalf of the less informed. Is it patronising? Possibly. Will it backfire? Probably not. Let’s face it, they’ll barely even notice anything’s happened, just that there are fewer pop-ups to deal with for a while: they didn’t know why they started appearing in the first place, they don’t know why they went away again. Another magical mystery of the confusing and inscrutable computer.
The opposing viewpoint says that the moral autonomy of every computer owner is paramount. Everyone should be free to have an un-updated, unsecured crock of a computer if that’s what they want. It’s an absolutist position, like Star Trek’s Prime Directive: never interfere, whatever the consequences. But in Star Trek, they break the Prime Directive all the time for overriding moral reasons, especially when they think they can get away with it without anyone noticing. Installing a security patch would be just like that.
I have sympathy with the absolutist view as well (which is why I posed the dilemma – I’m conflicted). But I think the problem with it is, in general it’s not a choice on the ignorant user’s behalf, it’s a lack of ability and understanding. Letting them remain that way is equivalent to the patronising Western attitude which says, “we shouldn’t help developing countries improve their societies because it’s their choice: they want to live in poverty and filth and disease.”