Data Mining: When collecting online information crosses ethical lines

data mining

Because of events like the National Security Administration being called into question for spying on American citizens, data mining has been at the forefront of the news in the past couple years. Just in case you haven’t figured out what data mining means in this digital age, it’s when corporations collect and huge amounts of data to predict patterns. Not surprisingly, this collection of data has raised many concerns.

As a marketer, I can see the advantages of data mining. The collection of consumer data can result in a better understanding of who your customers are and what they want. Any marketer that tells you they wouldn’t like to have more information about their consumers is either lying to you or not a very good marketer! Even as a consumer, I can see how data mining could be beneficial. Of course I want my shopping experiences and products to be tailored to me. I’m not likely even to notice a product or story if it’s unrelated to any of my interests.

The positives of data mining aside, I share many of the same concerns as my fellow consumers. Any data about me that is collected without my consent seems to violate my privacy. It’s one thing if I voluntarily take a survey or fill out a questionnaire about an organization…then I at least have some control over what information is being collected and who is receiving that information. It’s a whole different story if someone is collecting information about me unknowingly, and sharing what could be private information with others before I share it with them. For an example, check out this article about how Target knew a teen girl was pregnant before her father did.

As a marketing manager, I would be very transparent with consumers if and when I was data mining. I would be very upfront about the fact that we were collecting data in order to make a more tailored customer experience. I would let them know that their information would be secure and anonymous. Finally, I would allow consumers an opt-out option if they wished not to be tracked. Hopefully these steps would ensure that my customers felt secure when they were visiting my site.

Obviously organizations spying on citizens or tapping into their cell phones is a little more intense than any data collecting I would be doing. I’m sure some people will say that various organizations may be collecting this information for the public safety, and I’m really grateful for any information collected that has prevented the loss of life. That being said, I don’t think that ordinary people should be subjected to this clear violation of privacy.


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