The Price of Privacy, The Cost of Data

In Online privacyby Marius Badenhorst

Spy-Marketing“What is in a name, but binary; a code by any other name would cost just as much” is what Shakespeare might have written had he lived to see the colossal unveiling of the NSA’s PRISM program. The purpose of the project is essentially the farming of personal e-mails, phone calls and social media activity among more supposedly private data. How does this affect digital marketing as a whole?

The answer may shock you…or not.

Public Privacy

As digital marketers it is our duty and calling to bridge the communication divide between consumer and supplier; it’s a fast-paced industry tailor made for the information age. They once said ‘knowledge is power’ and I would say it’s high time for an update, knowledge is currency. However, as is to be expected in the age of immediate satisfaction, the world moves far too fast for the ethical ramifications to keep up. The idea of protecting our privacy while exposing ourselves on social networks is a blatant quandary; if we are to be seen then we also want to be heard but we would prefer that be our business and not yours.

Private-DataData Catch 22

What is abundantly clear is that consumers do not want to be mined for data; they are human beings and not the can of deodorant they wear or the car they drive. Digital marketing is, itself, a quandary – effective because of data but often vilified by the usage of that data. Success means that consumers are responding positively overall while failure is the inability to use the data. It’s a bit of a catch 22 and I’m going to stop and ask the question (brought up by a strong negative reaction to PRISM), “How far can we go with the data before we are invading privacy?”

Aragorn-EyeAppropriately Invasive Marketing

Google Analytics is open to the world; anyone can create an account and begin to mine data for their clients. ‘This is my target audience; let’s see what they are searching for’ – the very basis of search engine optimisation. Is it because we cannot attribute that data to individuals that it becomes ethically okay? If I know John enjoys Pepsi because of his search history, is that wrong? If I know a crowd of Johns enjoy Pepsi, is that better? As marketers, we have nothing to hide but transparency in our methods may be akin to a magician revealing its secrets. However as we get savvier, the ability to use data becomes more sophisticated and it’s not unrealistic to believe that one day we may have a world comparable to that of Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report.

Is that kind of direct marketing an invasion of privacy? How far can we push the data envelope before we become an Orwellian, Big Brother peddler of trinkets?

As citizens trade liberties for safety, will consumers trade privacy for relevant marketing?

These questions I am asking and the thoughts that I am trying to provoke may or may not be premature but sooner or later someone is going to ask and I’d rather that I have a reasonable answer. It is only my hope that we are not so far over the ethical line, at that point, that we cannot even see the line behind us.

About the Author

Marius Badenhorst