Potential Hazards of Our Current Model of Online Advertising

By going online, websites collect a lot of data as you’re browsing through the internet. Websites can collect data such as the type of device you’re accessing the internet with, the location you’re accessing the website from, how often you visit the site, every button you click on a site and searches you make. Websites can even collect personal information such as your age, gender, and much more information just based on what you do on the internet. How far is too far? As professional marketers, we already know this information. But some internet users are blind to the fact that all of their data is being collected on the internet. So, how safe is the internet?

How dangerous is online advertising for society?

To answer that question, I would rate the level of danger on a scale of 1 to 5 (5 being highly dangerous, and 1 being not dangerous at all), a 4. I believe online advertising is currently moderately dangerous for society but has the potential to become more dangerous in the future with new technology. As professional marketers, you have the ability to use a large amount of data to create a specific ad, tailored to a specific group of people. But getting too specific may scare people. 

Going Too Far…

I once read an article about Target’s advertising. Target is able to keep track of people’s purchases and anticipate what they will buy next. Then, they would send the customers a coupon they could use at Target, for the items that they anticipated they would need. Eventually, Target’s big idea was to anticipate when expecting mothers needed certain products. Eventually, a concerned father of a teenage girl was outraged that Target had been sending expecting mother-related coupons to his daughter, only to later find out that his teenage daughter was pregnant. This is just one example of how advertising, in general, has the potential to become way too personal and can start to have people concerned about their own privacy. If Target can determine a teenage girl was pregnant before the girl even knew she was pregnant…How far is too far?

In terms of online advertising, things get a little more personal. In an article by The Verge, the writer discusses how Facebook has been allowing third-party apps to collect data on Facebook users and their friends through what seemed like innocent personality quizzes that are intended to be “for fun”. This data was collected to better promote ads that are better tailored to you and your Facebook friends. Without knowing about how these innocent quizzes are collecting data, users might find this invasive. For a marketer, this might not seem like a big deal to collect data from social media users. For people finding out about it for the first time, it can be a bit scary to think that the internet is collecting a large amount of data about you. 

Another example, in an article from Philosophy Talk, they discuss how Amazon’s Alexa has plans to collect audio data through smart home devices and use the data to present better-tailored ads for individuals. I personally believe this is quite intrusive, and I would prefer not to have my personal family conversations to be recorded and turned into analytical audio data. I would assume that most people would agree with this, but professional marketers might see this as an amazing advance in technology, which is true. Just because there is a great advantage with technology, doesn’t always mean it’s ethical to use it in everyone’s private homes. 

So, to ensure that digital marketing doesn’t go too far in collecting data about users, I have put together a code of ethics. This code of ethics will act as a set of rules to follow so that digital markers can have fair use of data gathering, without creeping their potential consumers.

Code of Ethics

  1. Get the user’s consent
  2. Take time to analyze the effects on users
  3. Research before implementing new methods of data collection
  4. Set a limit for specific personal information collected
  5. Keep data private, don’t share with third parties without initial consent of the user
  6. Don’t misinterpret data to someone’s advantage
  7. Be transparent
  8. Don’t break any state or federal laws

This code of ethics is the start of basic rules to follow when collecting data through digital marketing platforms. An article published by SheerID offers guidance on how to provide personalized ads without interrupting someone’s privacy. I believe the most important tip provided by SheerID was Privacy Regulation. Privacy Regulation is required by the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). This means that websites much communicate with users that data may be collected from them while using the site. This is a form of consent, which allows users to understand that data about them will be collected and used by the site. 

To Conclude

As professional marketers, we should begin to realize that technology has been allowing websites to collect an absurd amount of information from users, sometimes in ways that seem a little too intrusive. It’s time to take a step back and understand what kind of data we truly need to pull from a user when browsing through a site. The current model of online advertising is becoming more dangerous with increases in technology, and it’s time to slow down.







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