A conflict of interest is said to exist when an individual or organization has a hidden intention that has the potential to compromise their ability to perform their authorized responsibilities. For example:
Accepting a bribe or other benefit from a concrete supplier to ignore the supply of a lower and cheaper grade of concrete for a bridge deck would clearly be a conflict of interest that could put the public – and the profession – at risk.
In this example the professional's independent judgment has been set aside for personal gain.
And even if no improper acts result from the conflict, it can still create the appearance of impropriety that can undermine confidence in the individual or the organization.
In the context of Technology Professionals, a conflict of interest has the potential to interfere with an individual's judgment and potentially compromise their protection of the public interest.
Other examples of conflict of interest include:
- using one's professional status to gain benefits (called 'influence peddling');
- using an employer’s tools and equipment without permission for personal gain;
- using a client’s confidential information for personal gain; and
- establishing a business in competition with one’s employer (called 'moonlighting').
The common elements are 'personal gain' and a 'disregard for trust' given by the public or an employer.
Even with the best of intentions, it can be difficult for an individual to identify that they are about to enter a conflict of interest situation. When in doubt, reviewing the Code of Ethics and discussing the situation with a peer or supervisor can help provide the necessary clarity of thought and objectivity.