The Ethics of Data Analytics

Data ethics analysis continue to be debated.

The issue of ethics in data collection and analysis has been big concern for many Americans ever since Edward Snowden revealed just how much of our personal information is being collected.

At the heart of the debate is this: Where do companies draw the line on the kinds of data they collect? And at what point does it begin to infringe on a person’s right to some level of privacy?

SessionCam provides a story that illustrates the issue. A hotel chain that prides itself on customer service built a ramp for a husband to take his wheelchair-bound wife from the hotel grounds to the beach. However, this extraordinary moment of customer service happened because a hotel employee overheard the husband tell his wife in private conversation that it was too bad he couldn’t take her down the beach.

Did the hotel go too far? Is it OK to provide service to a customer if they didn’t ask for it directly?

Internet Issues

This type of issue occurs continuously on the internet. Anyone searching for a car on a popular car-buying website will subsequently find advertisements for whatever vehicle they researched popping up wherever they go afterward. Helpful? Maybe. Annoying?  For many people, yes. The practice is often perceived as intrusive on perceived privacy.

A 2016 survey from inbound marketing software company Hubspot revealed that 91% of consumers feel that ads are more intrusive than just a few years ago. It went on to note that 64% of consumers who use ad blocking software installed it because of that intrusiveness.

Marketers and customer satisfaction experts, however, face a difficult issue. Concerns about data ethics abound, customers also demand a higher level of service. Mass marketing is no longer effective in many industries.

Personalization is now the buzzword for marketing and has created many career opportunities for those who earn a degree in data analytics. Personalization simply means tailoring ads and delivering messages to people based on data collected about their interest in certain products, interaction with specific brands and predictive analytics used to project future behavior.

And so, the advertisement for that Dodge Charger you checked out online two days ago will keep popping up.

Ethical Steps For Digital Marketers

Some areas have strong consumer protection laws on data collection. California, through the state’s Online Privacy Protection Act, requires companies to clearly post its privacy policy, among other issues. The European Union has a similar law, but also sets limits on how long a company can hold someone’s data and makes it illegal to transfer that information to anyone doing business outside Europe.

But the privacy laws differ across the globe, leaving data ethics in something of a gray area.

Individual businesses can earn consumer confidence and loyalty with a strong set of rules that define how, why and when they will collect customer data. They typically include the following two areas.

  • Ethics Start at the Top- Chief executive officers have the responsibility of setting strong internal rules about when and how information is collected. For example, information obtained by those working directly with customers should not be available across the organization.
  • Solid Privacy Policy- Companies need to establish a privacy policy that covers issues such as who is collecting the data, how it will be used, how long it will be kept and the exact types of data collected. The privacy policy should be posted in such a way that it is easy for customers to find and understand it.

Ask First

Google is a company that excels in this area. For any Google service, the company typically has a prominent box that must be ticked by the user, along with links to relevant information about what data Google is collecting.

Getting consent builds trust among potential customers and also gives them a choice to decide if they want to share certain types of information.

Data ethics policies will certainly evolve as technology continues to become a central part of everyone’s day-to-day lives, but all of the above issues should be top-of-mind for those going into data analytics and for businesses looking to establish trust with their customers.


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