Data Privacy and Advertising: Have We Gone Too Far?
By Natalie Sizelove, Events and Promotions Director, Spring 2019
We are living in a time of constant change in the technology and communications fields. Companies find newer and more savvy ways to connect with and advertise to their audiences everyday. One way of doing this, which is becoming increasingly common, is data harvesting on social media, search engines, and shopping sites for a more 'customized' advertising experience. Companies like Google, Amazon, and Facebook are known to utilize user information for advertisements on their websites. User data collection has been a controversial topic since the birth of the Internet, and today the discussion is more heated than ever.
Facebook went under fire in the spring of 2018 for selling user data to Cambridge Analytica for targeted advertising purposes without letting users know what the data what used for. As many as 87 million Facebook users had their data used for psychographic analysis and personalized advertising during the 2016 presidential election. Public outcry at the news was immediate, and Mark Zuckerberg went on trial in April 2018. While he apologized and promised to do more to protect user data, Zuckerberg stated that it could take years to fully fix the problem.
Other companies known for collecting user data are Google and Amazon. Google announced in May 2018 that a new technological assistant will be able to “schedule appointments for you over the phone, customize suggestions in Google Maps, and … help finish your sentences as you type an email.” But beneath all of this, Google will be constantly collecting user data. Although they promise not to sell the information, they still use this information to “make ads relevant” to users. Along the same line, Amazon doesn’t sell user data that is collected on the website, but they have no problem sharing the data with big companies – Starbucks, AT&T, T-Mobile, etc. – to “customize future shopping.” Some of the information that they collect includes credit history, Amazon passwords, credit card information, addresses, and even Social Security numbers. Thus, while it seems these companies aren’t using information for anything malicious, it still makes many uneasy that they are collecting it in the first place.
While collecting user data can make advertising more personalized and shopping more convenient for the customer, the issue of privacy remains at the forefront of the public's mind. As communications professionals, we must consider the ethical implications of this highly personalized form of advertising, and ask ourselves - is it worth it?