Marketing Ethics: The fine line between marketing research and consumer privacy

Marketers are not bad people but are often about as welcome as the door-to-door salesperson of old.  As marketers we must strive to earn the trust of our publics.  This challenges us to be impeccable in our interactions, commit to customer service, show integrity by eliminating practices that could be viewed as deceptive, be socially responsible and protect our customers data.

But what about respecting our customers’ privacy?

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In terms of permission-based marketing, there are many safeguards in use to respect consumer privacy.  For example, we ask for permission from our mobile customers in order to communicate via SMS or push notifications.  Marketers require users to express permissions for companies to “submit communication to their digital identity by simply clicking a like, follow or plus button” on social media channels.  Additionally, marketers require consumers to opt-in by providing “explicit permission from consumers before delivering marketing collateral to them” via e-mail or newsletters; however, respecting customer privacy extends to marketing research as well.

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The way in which consumers have adopted technology has outpaced the understanding of its implications to privacy.  For example, installing a mobile app may require users to give permissions that incongruous with the intent of the app.  Then there is Geolocation which tracks where a smartphone owner is.  Even those innocent photos snapped while on vacation can tell others that you aren’t home and your travel habits.  It may seem innocent enough and result in some great travel bargains but isn’t it just a bit disconcerting to know that someone knows all the happenings in your life?

While some consumers are using caution in granting permissions to mobile apps and choosing to disable Geolocation, many may not “completely comprehend the repercussions of having their information captured somewhere“.

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It is not enough for marketers to inform consumers regarding what data they collect and what they do with it, they need to work together with government and consumer education non-profit agencies to help the consumer understand how to better protect themselves.  By showing consumers that marketers care about their data and have a sincere desire to keep them safe, a greater level of trust can be established.  When consumers feel that we have their best interest at heart, perhaps they will be more comfortable providing us with their data.

Learn more about the timeline and evolution of marketing from Vision Critical.


About Kimberly Coleman

I am a graduate student at WVU in Integrated Marketing Communications. I reside in Western North Carolina and enjoy all the beautiful nature this area has to offer.
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2 Responses to Marketing Ethics: The fine line between marketing research and consumer privacy

  1. krkirsch says:

    Hi Kim,

    Great post! While I completely agree with you there are many ethical implications in regard to collecting consumer information, do you think it is beneficial to consumers? While I, even as a marketer see huge potential with data collection, I am concerned about privacy as a consumer; yet, I really like that my coupons and advertisements are directed at me and what i buy. Data allows companies to market to specific people, those they thing would be interested in their products. This cuts down on unnecessary costs for companies while the consumer is sent less marketing materials to sift through for products they aren’t interested in. Do you feel data mining can be beneficial to consumers? If you think there should be regulations on what/how companies data mine what do you think they should be?

    • Hi,
      Thanks for the sharing your thoughts. I do feel that data mining can be beneficial to consumers. If you are going to be the audience for an advertisement it is much better to have it be pertinent. For example, I would not be a good target for diapers as I don’t have children. I do think that there needs to be more disclosure (and in simple language) about what data elements are going to be used and how. Consider mobile apps or Facebook apps that want access to our contacts. Why? Tell me why you want my birthday, contacts and why you want permission to post on my wall just so I can register for a contest or access your app. This is where I think a lot of deception may exist.

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