The recent scandal involving Cambridge Analytica and Facebook highlights a major ethical dilemma generated by rapid use of technology in our lives. Companies surrounding us are continually collecting the information about us and using it to drive specific behaviour in us without our knowledge. While most of these activities are limited to pushing offers and promotions on digital channels, it appears like Cambridge Analytica had undoubtedly crossed a line by using it to manipulate voter’s decisions.
It is true that most major organisations have interest in collecting information about customers and have harnessed it by deploying sophisticated algorithms to generate profits. There are many examples when these activities have made life better for today’s digital consumers. For example:
- Amazon uses the buyer’s data to provide the recommendations for next product that they are likely to buy. It is evident that if people buy more products, Amazon benefits from it. But it is equally valid that this approach helps customers find products with ease without having to browse through tediously for hours.
- Google uses the email data to classify them as spam or not-spam. Some people would consider it as an invasion of privacy. However, this approach makes our lives much better because a highly accurate and quick machine is pre-screening our emails so that we get only the relevant content.
- It is important to point out that even Obama used sophisticated data analytics to predict which voters are at the brink and used his resources to directly talk to these people and convince them about his presidency.
So if Obama himself used a similar approach, why a similar approach seems scandalous during Trump campaign? There are several reasons:
a. Companies related to the campaign collected the data without the consent of the people. They used the data for an application which was never agreed upon.
b. They abused the default privacy settings of Facebook to collect more information from the network and communities without their explicit permission.
c. Companies related to the campaign distributed the data to the third parties who ran digital ads without attributing it to the origin of the data.
This kind of ill-treatment of the data and blatant carelessness in running marketing campaigns may have worked well for their campaign but is the reason why this approach is so wrong. The data should be collected by fair means and should be used for the specific application for which the consumer has agreed. The consumer is putting their trust in the brands, and it is an ethical responsibility of the brands to protect the interests of consumers, most of whom do not understand the technicalities behind.
In light of this brewing storm, I have decided to compile a list of best practices that should be followed in collecting, analysing and using the consumer data:
- All consumer data should be kept in a private and encrypted database on the servers of brands. This should not be shared between third parties or the public.
- All the public data collected should comply with the policies of individual websites from which they are being obtained. For example – Facebook shares specific parameters of the profiles public so that they can appear on the search engines. Any attempt to gather more information may not be ethical.
- The data collected should only be used for the application on which it was received. For example, if users are leaving their data on an e-commerce website, it should only be used to push purchases from the e-store.
- The terms and conditions for collecting information should be made clear to the consumers, and their consent should be taken to use their data in future.
- Any marketing activity done from the data should have a valid and verifiable source.
– Anmol Mohan
CEO, Tuple Technologies
P.S.: Tuple provides Big Data Analytics and Artificial Intelligence platform as a service. Our objective is to accelerate and spread the use of data analytics to enable accurate and optimal decision making. Due to the nature of our business, we do help our clients collect, analyse and use the data. However, we have a commitment to protect the consumers from any kind of harassment and manipulation. We never engage in any unethical activity related to data collection or usage for which consumers have not provided an explicit consent.
P.P.S.: All the opinions provided in this article are my own and is not meant to be a proof or guidelines for any specific company or activity. All facts presented in this article are based on publicly available media coverage, and I have tried my best to be factually accurate