In the age of ever-advancing digitization and the relentless development of new technologies, data tracking is becoming increasingly simple but at the same time more controversial. With tools like Google Analytics, companies have access to a lot of data about their users that would otherwise never be shared. While this data is crucial to many companies seeking personalized and targeted communication with their customers, its impact is increasingly overshadowed by the ethical concerns associated with the collection and use of such data. These concerns mainly relate to the invasion of user privacy and unauthorized use of personal data. But what is the ethical dilemma? The advantage of digital marketing, e.g. growth hacking, is to use data (such as cookies etc.) to play out advertising messages in a targeted and measurable manner. Since this is not entirely undisputed as it has been done so far, this is restricted by the legislature (GDPR, revDSG) or companies such as Apple (OS 14 update), which has significant consequences for targeted digital marketing.
The question now arises as to how a responsible and ethically correct handling of personal data can be ensured. To approach that answer, this article explores the principles of digital ethics and why they should be given importance.
Digital ethics represents a system of values whose norms and principles serve to guarantee the autonomy and dignity of the user when surfing the Internet. While traditional ethics refer to relationships between individuals and business ethics to relationships between companies and customers, digital ethics combine both to ensure smooth communication between both parties.
Digital ethics deal with moral questions and problems that arise in the course of digital transformation and aim to establish codes of conduct and moral boundaries that companies should observe in digital activities, such as increasing their reach through the use of social media and user data.
The increase in cyber attacks is causing many users to pay more attention to privacy issues. Many governments around the world are considering passing laws to protect user data, partly in response to new AI technologies, which have significant potential for abuse. All of this makes it more important than ever for companies to rethink their data collection and to anchor the basic principles of digital ethics in their data collection methods.
Digital ethics is a future-oriented concept that is of fundamental importance for the corporate image. The way in which companies deal with user data and utilize it determines how the company is perceived by its customers. The human factor plays a role that should not be ignored. People tend to judge companies from a moral point of view. They want to feel safe while shopping online or simply surfing the internet. It is, therefore, important to give them the assurance that their data will not be misused. For this, in turn, basic ethical principles are essential. If companies ignore them, their reputation and brand image suffer in the first place. The inclusion of ethical principles in the marketing strategy can, however, polish up the image of the company and significantly increase the trust of the users in the company.
One of the most effective ways to improve your marketing strategy is to consistently adhere to certain ethical principles. This is the basis of a strong trust in your company and its prosperity. Sure, you can win some customers by using shady methods, but the harm it can potentially cause is significant. With dubious marketing tactics, you damage your company’s reputation in the long term. So instead, you should focus on ethical marketing, which can help you maximize customer satisfaction and maintain the trustworthiness of your company. The following basic ethical principles will help you achieve this.
✔ Transparency. Every user has the right to know how their personal data is collected, stored, and used by your company. In doing so, you should inform your customers about the methods you use to collect data and the purposes for which you intend to use the information collected. Withholding information about the data collection methods used is both illegal and unfair to your users and will have serious consequences that can cause long-term damage to your business. It is, therefore, important to refrain from such dubious practices and instead rely on transparency.
✔ Clear and target-oriented communication. If you think that you can create more transparency through the lengthy list of user conditions, you are very wrong. As a rule, they are seldom or never read. Instead of a long and monotonous list of user conditions, companies could inform their users more clearly, simply, and innovatively about the use of their data. Create a short, descriptive video explaining the user conditions.
✔ Guarantee of privacy. Another ethical responsibility when dealing with data is to ensure user privacy. Even if the customer agrees to have their personal information collected by your company, that doesn’t mean they’d have no problem with that information being publicly available. Personal data is all information that is associated with the identity of a person. This can include a person’s full name, date of birth, address. To protect the privacy of individuals, you should make sure that you store their information in a secure database so that it does not fall into the wrong hands. Data security methods used to protect privacy include password protection with double authentication and file encryption.
✔ Respect. In this sense, respect means above all the willingness to respond to the wishes, interests, and expectations of those affected by your data usage and to treat them as people and not as a means to an end. Respect for each individual has different interpretations in different cultures. Nevertheless, respect in the sense of data tracking can be understood as a common basis for this, which aims to put each individual person at the center of decisions about data. Every company should strive for a respectful handling of user data. This, in turn, can be achieved by having the company act as a kind of steward or protector of other people’s data and protect them on their behalf.
✔ The principle of non-discrimination. Even if you handle personal data very carefully, it often happens that sensitive information such as that about race, disability, sexual orientation, religion, or political convictions is misused. Since the misuse of such data is strongly condemned in society, you should be very careful that this information remains secret and is in no way misused for discrimination.
✔ Show benefits. The best way for companies to convince their users to consent to the collection and use of their personal data is to clearly show them what advantages this brings. Every company either offers its services or sells its products. Let your users know what data you collect and how you use that data in your product or service. You should make it clear to your customers to what extent the collection of their data will benefit them. Regardless of the purpose for which the user data is used, whether to advance research and development or improve inventory control, most users are willing to have their data collected when they know that they can ultimately benefit from it.
Data tracking is an indispensable part of today’s marketing, even if it occasionally raises ethical questions. Data breaches and the misuse of user data are significant problems for both businesses and users, who rightly have privacy concerns. What is undeniably clear, however, is that the advantages of data collection for both parties far outweigh the disadvantages. In order to courageously face the potential risks and dangers that new technologies and innovations harbor, companies should incorporate the fundamental principles of digital ethics into their marketing strategies. This will help you to build trust in your company and give your users the assurance that you are conscientious and responsible with their data. If you need advice on questions of digital ethics or digital marketing, we are happy to support you with words and deeds in all of your endeavors.