The Hazards and Ethics of Online Advertising

Source: Vox

Is Current Online Advertising Dangerous?

When it comes to the current model of online advertising, perhaps the biggest hazard to consumers is the invasion of their privacy. Recently, there have been several instances surfacing where organizations are using questionable methods of gathering data from consumers. Even worse, for some occasions, several online marketers were aware that these questionable actions were occurring [1]. Online marketing is currently facing scrutiny, as many people are questioning the ethicality of online marketer’s action. While there are some legal regulations in place to protect consumers, unfortunately, illegal activity and unethical activity are two different things [3]. How far can online marketers go before they cross the line of invading consumers’ privacy? Having the ability to target advertising campaigns towards specific target groups is essential for the success of marketing efforts in general. With the online shopping industry growing rapidly, marketers must work to ensure potential consumers feel safe and comfortable in this environment. With all these privacy concerns related to data gathering arising, consumers’ trust has fallen.

As mentioned in the article “Online privacy vs. marketing: Which matters more?”, there is a line to be drawn between users voluntarily sharing personal data with companies in hopes of getting a more personal experience and data that is collected by interested parties without permission [2]. The same article claims that 86% of online users actively take precautions to protect their personal information online [2]. This shows that privacy is of concern of most online users, thus online marketers should only take part in ethical actions that do not compromise users’ safety.

On a scale of 1-5, I would rate the danger of the current model of online advertising as a 3. It is clear that not all marketers are being ethical. Thus, consumers are at risk of having their personal data shared unwillingly, such as in Cambridge Analytica scandal, where data was not only gathered from people who willingly opted in, but their Facebook friends as well. Privacy is not the only danger of online advertising; in 2014, a US Senate report claimed that some online ads can easily be disguised as viruses and malware, even when users don’t actively click on them [4]. This poses a threat for both consumers and online marketers, as this danger can make consumers even more weary of digital display ads.

Code of Ethics for Online Marketers

Ensuring that you are attracting consumers who have a high potential of conversion is highly important. Without tracking online behavior and gathering data, tailoring and placing ads correctly would be nearly impossible. On the flip side, several consumers enjoy having their advertising content personalized and tailored to them. There is motivation from both sides of the spectrum for data to be gathered. Companies are much better off being transparent about their data gathering efforts, as acting unethically can damage trust with consumers. Here is a code of ethics that online marketers should keep in mind when gathering and using consumer data:

  • Only gather data from users who have given explicit consent
  • Ensure advertisements are transparent and honest
  • Only gather data that is relevant to each specific ad campaign
  • Always support consumers’ right to privacy
  • Be transparent and communicate data-gathering procedures with consumers to build trust
  • Follow all laws and guidelines put forth by the FTC and other organizations
  • Create ethical guidelines in your own organization to ensure all employees are on the same page
  • Speak out against unethical online marketing practices

In order to regain trust and fix the negative view of online marketing, organizations must actively take action in implementing their own ethical guidelines, as well as speak out against those acting unethically. Gathering consumer data is essential to the success of online marketing, both in the view of the marketer and the consumer. Data should only be gathered from consumers who explicitly give consent, always supporting a consumer’s right to privacy. In addition, organizations should comply with all laws concerning online marketing and avoid finding loopholes around them. Lastly, to ensure the best consumer experience possible, marketers should be very transparent with consumers, making their data-collection intentions clear, as well as structuring their ads in an honest way.






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