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OPINION: Internet giants should equally value personal privacy and advertising dollars

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This blog post was originally published by The Next Great Generation on Boston.com here

By Minh Pham

The idea of targeted marketing isn’t exactly a groundbreaking concept; it’s why you see makeup and clothing ads in Cosmopolitan, not ESPN The Magazine. However, the fact that the tactic has moved into the digital space, where marketers can track with intense precision everything from eye movement to the amount of spent time on a page, continues to raise an enormous amount of concern, especially among the thought leaders who are smart enough to pinpoint how this tactic works.

In a recent interview, University of Pennsylvania communication professor Joseph Turow discussed the issue of marketers gaining access to Internet users’ personal data for the purpose of targeted marketing; it’s also the principle idea of his book, The Daily You: How the New Advertising Industry Is Defining Your Identity and Your Worth. Though Turow acknowledges the benefits of this practice, he also understands the ethical issues that surround consumers’ vulnerability to manipulation.

We live in a world that’s as digital as it is real, so the ability to use Internet data to target individuals has far-reaching effects. Through the lens of both an aspiring marketer and an average consumer, it’s easy for me to see how this customization works both ways. However, it’s important that the almighty dollar doesn’t always trump personal privacy.

Obviously, in every situation, it’s helpful for marketers to be able to base their ad placements on such data. The more accurate and specific that data is, the more likely it is that the ads will reach their intended audience — but there’s a line. Turow talks about the possibility that news organizations, when faced with a competition for readers and viewers — and, thus, advertising dollars — will use this data to tailor their headlines to a certain demographic. Doesn’t doing so pose ethical problems? The news is supposed to be objective, after all.

From a consumer standpoint, I’m startled by just how detailed an analysis these marketers can get about me despite my best efforts to stop them. Even as a web-savvy young adult who knows how to protect her online privacy, I still get a little nervous every time I click that “allow access to my Facebook” button; imagine how those who aren’t as well versed must feel. Turow mentions that there needs to be a better system of informing the public about all the personal information they’re giving up when they play Words With Friends or Draw Something, and I wholeheartedly agree.

But a tough situation remains: How do websites strike the balance between pleasing their advertisers and securing their users’ personal privacy? As the mediators between consumers (those using the service) and brands (those helping maintain the services through their advertising dollars), every destination on the Internet, from Facebook to Google, must place one of those groups higher than the other when making executive decisions.

I cannot stress enough how critical it is for these top-notch technology dogs to consider both groups to be of equal importance.

Do you feel that your privacy is protected when you’re online?

Photo by Poster Boy NYC (Flickr)

About Minh — I once told my mom that there are three consistent passions in my life: advertising, bartending, and tennis. I wouldn’t consider myself an expert in any of those fields, but something about each of them makes me feels very much alive. Twitter:@DatsWatMinhSaid

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