With the development of IT technologies, Internet advertising has evolved, too. Such companies as Google and Facebook are constantly changing, adjusting to the new conditions so that their advertising platforms work. Today, digital advertising utilizes many techniques based on programs that detect, track, and analyze the actions and reactions of the users on the Web. Advertisers include the collected data about people’s feedback, as well as their data, in their further work and provide specific ads for people depending on their interests and preferences.
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Such a way of retrieval of the information undermines the institution of privacy online. As Carole Cadwalladr, the author of the article “Google, Democracy, and the Truth about Internet Search” stated, people do not know “how our personal data is being mined and used to influence us” (491). The unawareness of the possible ways the personal data might be used online imposes a variety of ethical issues and privacy concerns that have to be resolved to eliminate its harmful effects.
How Personalized Digital Advertising Works
Internet technologies as a relatively recent phenomenon have occupied a significant place in modern people’s lives. It is impossible to imagine one’s day in life without browsing the network, buying products, or just entertaining and communicating on social media. Such an active usage of websites and online platforms is a useful tool for marketing, advertising, and other spheres to influence people. Properly utilized data about users is capable of targeting them for selling goods and services.
Online activity of people, as well as their reactions to particular content, is included in such essential spheres as political elections, reforms, and others. By liking a post about a political leader on Facebook, a person obliviously sends a signal to some data-mining companies which analyze the information and use it to influence people (Cadwalladr 489-490). Similar to informational tracking, the methods of data collection are applied to advertising. It is not done occasionally but has already developed into “a vast system of hundreds of different sites that are using all the same tricks” (Cadwalladr 487).
Every time a user accesses social media, email, or a random purchasing website, he or she distributes information about themselves. Companies use software and cookies to track people’s shopping habits, record data, and sell what advertisers need (Lewis et al.192). Internet advertising, in turn, publishes ads based on the information collected. Such an approach has both positive and negative effects on people’s lives online and on humanity in general.
The Ethical Issues Related to Personalized Content
In the past, when purchasing habits or personal letters were possible to keep private, it was easy to preserve confidentiality. However, in the modern world, everything that happens online, from a person’s location to the activity in Facebook or Twitter accounts, becomes public (Willis 71). Today, when the amount of information exceeds the demand, the personalized attitude in many spheres, including advertising, might be interpreted as a positive aspect. If a person has some preferences in products, it is comfortable to get new information about similar items or new ideas on the market without spending time on the search. However, as the tendency shows, privacy intrusion has its limits.
The ads’ content generated with a personalized attitude was appealing to people until it became viral. The pages of websites are overloaded with advertisements, most of which are personally addressed to a user based on his or her search history and likes. According to Tucker, “privacy concerns may lead to ‘reactance,’ such that consumers resist the ad’s appeal” (546). Reactance becomes a behavioral pattern within which the targeted consumers begin to resist such an intrusive influence. Thus, a “track-me” attitude of people who do not specifically protect themselves online enforces users to be cautious about being transparent online and that it might be used against them (Willis 64-65). That is why people’s trust in online platforms diminishes when their confidentiality can be violated.
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Another concern related to the issue of personal information used is the influence of third parties on a user. According to Cadwalladr, analyzing systems utilize Facebook likes, as well as Google search history, and introduce a user with specifically chosen information (493).
If it is possible to select necessary data for displaying, it is possible to influence a person with that information. Not being able to manage private data online, people do not control the search results they get. Such a tendency might lead to severe biases in the knowledge a person receives from such browsing and ultimately affect their views on specific events. Therefore, personalized digital data is a manifestation of a robust system of technological methods capable of ruling the thinking and behavioral patterns in many people, which is a violation of a human right of free choice.
The Implications for Resolution of the Issue
There exist several ways to improve the situation with the harmful usage of personal online data by third parties. As for social media, such platforms as Facebook and others adjust their privacy policies. They develop an interface for safety and privacy control where a user can identify the aspects of his or her profile that are going to be publicly displayed or preserved confidential (Tucker 547).
Such settings allow the users to establish control over their personal information and be aware of the data that might be used by third parties. It is also possible to delete cookies from the browser or install an application that blocks tracking (Willis 70). As for the informational websites and online shops, it is possible to indicate that a website does not utilize any data-mining technologies and does not violate the privacy issues of its users. This method might increase the level of trust toward a site and be beneficial for both a consumer and a marketer.
Moreover, a change towards privacy respect from social media platforms has positive effects on both advertising and people’s perception of personalized ads. According to the research conducted by Tucker, the reaction of Facebook users to the customized advertisement upon the introduction of the possibility to control the privacy settings on their profiles was more favorable (557). The profit of the ads did not decrease, which shows that for people it is essential to be aware of their ability to control the amount of information they display publicly.
In conclusion, the digital era presents its advantages and harms to humanity. The technological methods and programs enable marketers, advertisers, and other third parties to utilize the personal information of a user, as well as his or her behavior and preferences online, to influence people and profit. A personalized approach in digital advertising simplifies the searching routine and allows people to save time and be able to find the necessary goods and services without any effort. However, the viral tendency to intrude into the personal space leads to the consumers’ reactance and concern about other harmful ways the confidential data might be used.
The technology utilized in such type of advertising is capable of selecting particular information to be displayed for an Internet user and might lead to significant biases. To eliminate the harmful effects of privacy intrusion online, it is possible to establish platforms that do not utilize such technology or introduce control over public information on social media. However, such interventions and precautions do not guarantee complete safety online.
Cadwalladr, Carole. “Google, Democracy, and the Truth about Internet Search.” They Say/I Say: The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing, with Readings. 4th ed., edited by Gerald Graff, et al., 2014, W.W. Norton, pp. 480-499.
Lewis, Randall, et al. “Measuring the Effects of Advertising: The Digital Frontier.” Economic Analysis of the Digital Economy, edited by Avi Goldfarb et al., 2015, University of Chicago Press, pp. 191-218.
Tucker, Catherine E. “Social Networks, Personalized Advertising, and Privacy Controls.” Journal of Marketing Research, vol. 51, no. 5, 2014, pp. 546–562.
Willis, Lauren E. “Why Not Privacy by Default?” Berkeley Technology Law Journal, vol. 29, no. 1, 2014, pp. 61-133.